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The Government published the Cyberbullying Bill 2013 last week with a view to tackling the ever-growing problem of bullying online or cyber bullying. A link to the Bill is available here

The Bill proposes to address what the Government perceives to be deficiencies of the existing criminal legislation by creating the offence of cyberbullying. The explanatory memorandum also sets out the deficiencies in current legislation. It provides that the Post Office (Amendment) Act 1951 (as amended) makes it inter alia an offence to send by telephone any message that is grossly offensive, or is indecent, obscene or menacing but does not include any reference to email or other means of electronic communication. It further notes that the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 makes it an offence to harass a person by “persistently following, watching, pestering, besetting or communicating with him or her”. It is suggested within the memorandum that the requirement to show “persistence” in the act of harassment is a significant limitation on the legislation.

What is Cyberbullying?

Section 1 of the Bill now defines “cyberbullying” as meaning “any electronic communication through the use of technology including, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, computers, other electronic devices, social networks, text messaging, instant messaging, websites and electronic mail, that is intended or ought reasonably to be expected to cause fear, intimidation, humiliation, distress or other damage or harm to another person’s health, emotional well-being, self-esteem or reputation, and includes assisting or encouraging such communication in any way“.

A “child” for the purpose of the Bill is defined as a person under 18 years of age.

Offence of Cyberbulling

Section 2 of the Bill provides that any person who sends an electronic communication through the use of technology that is intended to or ought reasonably be expected to cause fear, intimidation, distress or other damage or harm to another person’s health, emotional well-being, self-esteem or reputation commits the offence of cyberbullying.

Section 2 also provides that any person who assists or encourages the sending of an electronic communication through the use of technology including computers, other electronic devices, social networks, text messaging, instant messaging, websites and electronic mail that is intended or ought reasonably be expected to cause fear, intimidation, humiliation, distress or other damage or harm to another person’s health, emotional well-being, self-esteem or reputation also commits the offence of cyberbullying.

Parental responsibility for Cyberbullying

Interestingly Section 2(2) provides that where a child commits the offence of cyberbullying and the parents of the child know of the activity or know or ought reasonably to expect the activity to cause fear, intimidation, humiliation, distress or other damage or harm to another person’s health, emotional well-being or reputation and fail to take steps to prevent the activity from continuing, the parents commit the offence of cyberbullying.

Section 2(3) provides that where a parent is found guilty of an offence under Subsection (2) the Court may require a parent to participate in any course that is reasonably available for the improvement of parenting skills.

Offence and Penalties

Section 2(3)(b)provides that where a person is found guilty of an offence under Section 2(1) or (2), they are liable on conviction –

(i) if tried on indictment, to a fine not exceeding €20,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years, or to both, or
(ii) if tried summarily, to a fine not exceeding €5,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or to both.

The challenges appear to be far-reaching in trying to implement this legislation including the issue of parental responsibility and how this will be managed. We will provide further updates as the Bill progresses through the Dáil and various stages.

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