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The Role of The Crown Prosecution Service

The Crown Prosecution Service is the government department responsible for prosecuting criminal cases investigated by the police in England and Wales.

As the principal prosecuting authority in England and Wales, we are responsible for:

  • advising the police on cases for possible prosecution
  • reviewing cases submitted by the police
  • determining any charges in more serious or complex cases
  • preparing cases for court
  • presenting cases at court

Find out more about the role of the Crown Prosecution Service

New guidelines published on the prosecution of those who abuse victims online

03/03/2016

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is updating its guidelines on social media to incorporate new and emerging crimes that are being committed online and to provide clear advice to help the prosecution of cyber-enabled crime.

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.

The CPS has today launched a ten-week public consultation about the proposed revisions to the updated Social Media Guidelines.

It is vital that prosecutors and the public are aware of what could constitute a criminal offence when using social media. With the increase of smart technology, new and emerging methods are being used to abuse individuals online.

Alison Saunders, Director of Public Prosecutions, said: "Online communication is developing at such a fast pace, new ways of targeting and abusing individuals online are constantly emerging. 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. Online abuse is cowardly and can be deeply upsetting to the victim.

"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."

Advice has been added to the guidelines about the use of false online profiles and websites with false and damaging information. For example, it may be a criminal offence if a profile is created under the name of the victim with fake information uploaded which, if believed, could damage their reputation and humiliate them. In some cases the information could then be shared in such a way that it appears as though the victim has themselves made the statements This may amount to an offence, such as grossly offensive communication or harassment.

Since the guidelines were published in 2012 two new offences have been created. Therefore, the guidelines have been updated to incorporate these. Revenge pornography is predominantly carried out online and is worryingly becoming a common tactic of revenge, often after the breakdown of a relationship. Controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship came into force on 29 December 2015. Whilst this type of abuse can be carried out both online and offline, prosecutors need to be attuned to the use of GPS and Spyware amongst others, which offenders may use to assert control over a victim. The CPS has therefore updated the domestic abuse Joint NPCC and CPS Evidence Gathering checklist to remind officers and prosecutors of the online nature of this offending and that this type of evidence should be explored and collected.

The CPS identified in the Violence against Women and Girls Annual Report 2014-15 (VaWG) that cyber-enabled crime was becoming more prominent within cases and  social media was being used to target victims and to facilitate existing crimes such as blackmail, grooming, harassment and stalking.

By updating the guidelines and carrying out a consultation, we aim to include the clearest and most appropriate advice for our prosecutors. By providing prosecutors with the most up-to-date guidelines we continue to provide a high quality of service to victims and make sure offenders are brought to justice.

 

Ends

Notes to Editors

  1. The Interim Revised CPS Guidelines on Prosecuting Social Media Cases can be seen on the CPS website.
  2. For media enquiries call the CPS Press Office on 020 3357 0906; Out of Hours Pager 07699 781 926
  3. For the latest in breaking news from the CPS Press Office follow @cpsuk and visit our official News Brief - blog.cps.gov.uk
  4. The CPS consists of 13 Areas in total, each headed by a Chief Crown Prosecutor (CCP). In addition, there are three national casework divisions: Specialist Fraud (formerly Central Fraud and Welfare, Rural & Health Divisions), Special Crime & Counter Terrorism and Organised Crime. CPS Direct is a 'virtual' 14th Area which provides charging decisions to all police forces and other investigators across England and Wales - it operates twenty-four hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
  5. At 31 March 2015 we employed a workforce of approximately 5,895 staff (full time equivalent), including around 2,255 prosecutors and 3,288 caseworkers and administrators. Further information can be found on our website: www.cps.gov.uk.
  6. The CPS, together with police representatives (formerly ACPO) and media representatives, has developed a Protocol for the release of prosecution material to the media. This sets out the type of prosecution material that will normally be released, or considered for release, together with the factors we will take into account when considering requests. Read the Protocol for the release of prosecution material to the media.