The category of communications under the Malicious Communications Act 1988 has been expanded by the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 s 42 to cover the sending, delivery or transmission of electronic communications or articles of any description...
The new powers of seizure set out in Part 2 of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 are intended to assist the police and other investigators with some of the practicalities of handling and examining potential evidential material, particularly where it is held on computer.
In addition, the legislation recognises the prevalence of computers by enabling the seizure and retention of, for example, an entire disk or hard drive where that is necessary to prove when specific items of information were created or amended.
All these new powers are accompanied by safeguards such as the capacity to apply to a judge for the return of material which has been seized and restrictions on how seized material can be retained and used.
Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001
The Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 makes provision for combating crime and disorder. The Act:
- makes provision about the disclosure of information relating to criminal matters and about powers of search and seizure;
- amends the Police & Criminal Evidence Act 1984, The Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 and the Terrorism Act 2000;
- makes provision about the police, the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the National Crime Squad; and
- makes provision about the powers of the courts in relation to criminal matters.
Hate mail is usually anonymous, but if it can be traced the sender can also be prosecuted under the Malicious Communications Act 1988 which makes it an offence to send a letter or other article which conveys an indecent or grossly offensive message or a threat, or which contains information known to be false, where the purpose of sending it is to cause distress or anxiety.
The category of communications covered by the Malicious Communications Act 1988 has been expanded by the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 s 42 to cover the sending, delivery or transmission of electronic communications or articles of any description. This new definition will cover hate telephone calls, emails or text messages. The defence to such an offence has also been amended so that it will be necessary to show that a demand made in such a communication was made on reasonable grounds, and the person making it held an honest and reasonable belief that the threat made was a proper means of reinforcing that demand.
(1) In subsection (1) of section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988 (c. 27) (offence of sending letters and other articles with intent to cause distress or anxiety)—
(a) in paragraph (a), for “letter or other article” there shall be substituted “ letter, electronic communication or article of any description”; and
(b) in paragraph (b), for the word “other article” there shall be substituted “ article or electronic communication”.
(2) In subsection (2) of that section (defence of making a threat in the belief that it was a proper way of reinforcing a demand and that there were reasonable grounds for making that demand)—
(a) in paragraph (a), for “which he believed he had reasonable grounds for making” there shall be substituted “ made by him on reasonable grounds”; and
(b) in paragraph (b), after “believed” there shall be inserted “ , and had reasonable grounds for believing,”.
(3) After that subsection there shall be inserted—
“(2A) In this section “electronic communication” includes—
(a) any oral or other communication by means of a telecommunication system (within the meaning of the Telecommunications Act 1984 (c. 12)); and
(b) any communication (however sent) that is in electronic form.”
(4) In subsection (3) of that section (definition of “send”)—
(a) after “delivering” there shall be inserted “ or transmitting”; and
(b) for “or delivered” there shall be substituted “ , delivered or transmitted”.
(5) In subsection (5) of that section (penalty for offence), for “a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale” there shall be substituted “ imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or to both”.
(6) Subsection (5) does not affect the penalty for an offence committed before the day on which this Act is passed.