The UK Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has proposed quadrupling the legal punishments available to those found guilty of committing abuse over the internet, extending the maximum sentence to two years' imprisonment.
Speaking to the Mail on Sunday
, Grayling detailed changes to the current legislation that would see cases of abuse carried out over the internet - including making abusive comments over social networking services like Facebook or Twitter - carry a sentence of up to two years' imprisonment, up from six months at present. 'These internet trolls are cowards who are poisoning our national life,
' the Justice Secretary told the paper. 'No-one would permit such venom in person, so there should be no place for it on social media.
The move appears to have been prompted, at least in part, by the case of model Chloe Madeley, daughter of TV couple Richard and Judy, against whom various threats - up to and including bodily harm and rape - have been made by Twitter users displeased at her speaking out in defence of comments made by her mother regarding footballer Ched Evans' soon-to-be-spent conviction for rape and his suitability to return to his profession and place in the public eye.
The new legislation would see threatening, abusive or sexually offensive comments made against a person over the internet available for referral to the Crown Court for up to a 24 month sentence. Currently, such comments are prosecuted under the Malicious Communications Act, which provides magistrates with a maximum sentence of six months for offenders found guilty.
Madeley herself has supported the move, telling the BBC
that, while she supports freedom of speech, 'threats of any kind must not be interpreted as freedom of speech. Threatening to harm others is extreme and crosses the line of personal opinion into criminal behaviour. I am pleased the government are now talking about ways to deter trolls, and quadrupling the sentencing is a good place to start.
The proposed law will also include an amendment to current law to better address so-called 'revenge pornography' - the public posting of privately-provided nude or pornographic images by jilted exes - with an equal two-year sentence. Both sections of the law would apply in England and Wales only, as amendments to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill
. The House of Lords is to debate the bill later this week.