The Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, has launched new guidance on the prosecution of offences involving social media.
The revised guidelines cover cases where offenders set up fake profiles in the names of others, as well as advising prosecutors on the use of social media in new offences, such as revenge pornography and controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship.
Alison Saunders says that the new guidance is essential. “Online communication is developing at such a fast pace, new ways of targeting and abusing individuals online are constantly emerging,” she said. “We are seeing more and more cases where social media is being used as a method to facilitate both existing and new offences.”
“It is vital that prosecutors consider the bigger picture when looking at evidence and examine both the online and offline behaviour pattern of the defendant.”
As the Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders has faced criticism and controversy around the handling of trials for rape and sexual assault. The Crown Prosecution Service has been criticised for being too eager to bring cases for perverting the course of justice against those who have falsely accused others of rape, including the case of Eleanor de Freitas, who killed herself after the Crown Prosecution Service decided to take over a private prosecution brought against her by the man she accused, despite her having a mental illness.
Alison Saunders justified the new guidance. “Online abuse is cowardly and can be deeply upsetting to the victim,” she said. “Worryingly we have seen an increase in the use of cyber-enabled crime in cases related to Violence against Women and Girls, including domestic abuse.
“Offenders can mistakenly think that by using false online profiles and creating websites under a false name their offences are untraceable.
“Thankfully this is not the case and an online footprint will be left by the offender.
“Our guidelines are under constant review and continuously updated to ensure prosecutors have clear advice on new methods of committing crimes.”
In April 2015, Saunders was criticized for her decision to not prosecute Greville Janner on child sexual abuse charges despite his meeting the evidential test for prosecution, citing his poor health, as well as for dropping charges against nine journalists as part of the Operation Elveden case.