The Malicious Communications Act 1988 makes provision for punishing people who send or deliver letters or other articles which cause distress or anxiety. Prosecutors have used the Act to bring cases against people who use social networking websites such as Twitter to send hate messages.
Hate mail is usually anonymous, but if it can be traced the sender can be prosecuted under the Act. It is an offence to send a letter or other article which contains an indecent or grossly offensive message or a threat, or 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 & Police Act 2001 to cover the sending, delivery or transmission of electronic communications or articles of any description. This extension of powers now covers hate telephone calls, emails or text messages. The defence 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 & reasonable belief that the threat made was a proper means of reinforcing that demand.
- Communications offences (Crown Prosecution Service)