Cyberbullying and the law – What are your rights?

June 4, 2019

Deb Tweedy, associate and head of employment at Gordon Brown Law Firm, reflects on the legalities of online abuse

At Gordon Brown Law Firm LLP, we understand the principles of respect and integrity – treating others with these values is a distinguishable factor of our ethos.

With such an emphasis on online communication in this digital age, we’ve listed some helpful advice on your rights on the topic of cyberbullying, explaining what it means and importantly what the law covers.

What is cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying involves any type of bullying which takes place on an online platform or via smartphones or tablets. Social media sites, online gaming platforms and messaging apps have become somewhat of a hotbed in recent years for negative experiences, which can include cyberbullying. While cyberbullying itself is not a crime and is actually not covered by a specific law in the UK, the person committing the act will quite possibly be carrying out a criminal offence under various different acts. These can include the following:

Protection from Harassment Act 1997

Under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 it is a criminal offence for a person to pursue a course of conduct that amounts to the harassment of another, which the perpetrator knows or ought to know amounts to harassment. In the online domain this could include sending various forms of digital communication to an individual with the intention of causing distress. A person found guilty of this offence could receive up to six months’ imprisonment, a financial penalty or both.

Section 4 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 provides the potential for greater punishment to those found guilty of causing another person to fear, on at least two occasions, that violence will be used against them. A person found guilty of this offence could receive up to five years in prison, as well as a fine. The 1997 Act also gives courts the power to grant restraining orders against those found guilty of an offence in order to protect the victim.

Malicious Communications Act 1988

Section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988 states that it is an offence for any person to send a communication that is “indecent or grossly offensive” for the purpose of causing “distress or anxiety to the recipient.” The Act also extends to threats and information, which is false and known or believed to be false, by the sender of the communication. A person found guilty of this offence is liable to receive a prison sentence of up to six months, a fine (currently of up to £5,000) or even both.

Public Order Act 1986

Under section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, it is an offence to use threatening, abusive or insulting words, behaviour, writing or any visual representations likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress within the hearing or sight of a person. Concerning cyberbullying, with the influx of camera and video functionality on mobiles phones and tablets, this offence could apply when using these devices.

Computer Misuse Act 1990

If a person hacks into the victim’s online accounts or personal computer/smartphone, they may be committing an offence under the Computer Misuse Act 1990.

Gordon Brown Law Firm
If you’ve been affected by cyberbullying and would like to find out more, contact the Real People, Really Great Lawyers team on: 0191 388 1778

Scroll to next article
Go to

Websand: Connecting people