On the 13th December 2017, the Committee on Standards in Public Life, published its report titled ‘Intimidation in Public Life’; see here for the full report.

The Report considered alleged attempts to intimidate Parliamentary Candidates at the last general election, primarily via social media, with the Prime Minister initiating the Inquiry in July of 2017.

The Report reviews the current range of criminal offences that may apply to attempts at intimidation of Parliamentary Candidates.

The Report’s recommendations include, shifting liability for illegal content to social media companies and requiring social media companies to publish data concerning reporting and removal of content in the UK (see page 20 for a summary of the guidance).  The first of these recommendations could only occur after/if the UK leaves the European Union, due to the EU’s E-Commerce Directive.  It is not proposed to make social media companies liable for original, unmoderated content, only for content that they fail to remove (see pp 35 & 36).

It is also recommended that persons convicted of a criminal offence, where the motive was to intimidate a Parliamentary Candidate, may be disenfranchised.  However, the Committee do not advocate creating a new offence of political intimidation, (see page 60).  The justification for the potential disenfranchisement, is that such offences go against the integrity of the election process.  At the beginning of the report, intimidation is defined as attempts to deter participation in, or make an individual withdraw from, public life (see page 26).

I wonder whether, if the aforesaid proposals are implemented, the enforcement and imposition of the disenfranchisement sanction, will be impartial and not influenced in any way by the political sympathies of the offender.

Additionally, as the committee is especially concerned with political intimidation aimed at deterring participation in politics, perhaps they will later consider wider issues; for instance, economic intimidation by employers and third parties targeting the employment or incomes of those involved in politics, illegal distribution of membership data from political organisations (especially where the motive is political intimidation), political violence aimed at deterring participation in political activity and the deliberate obstruction of political activities.  Only the first of these and the last in some circumstances, are not already criminal offences.  The committee might also recommend that MPs do not belong to, or support, organisations that openly seek to illegally disrupt the activity of lawfully registered political parties.