ONLINE READERS COMMENT: Offensive, indecent, obscene or menacing messages are potentially unlawful

Thursday, March 23, 2017

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Dear Editor:

Lord Anthony Gifford, in his article 'Human rights and the Tambourine Army' in another newspaper, shared his views on the prosecution of Latoya Nugent for malicious communication using a computer.
He argued that: "We live under the rule of law, and the justice system should be there to ensure that crimes are reported and investigated, and the perpetrators punished. The presumption of innocence means that we should not label people as guilty until they have been so found after a fair trial. But the system is creaking. Cases take ages to be heard. Most judges do their best to do justice, but the ordeals faced by both victims and accused on the road to justice are often intolerable".
This reasoning has contradictory undertones and seemingly encourages extra-judicial actions.
Despite the overwhelming challenges, we are expected to utilise the competent authority (the courts) to declare an accused's guilt.
It is because we live by the rule of law, and that we have a justice system to punish criminals, why victims of abuse should respect due process and let the law take its course.
The danger is that when people disregard an accused's right to the presumption of innocence and publicly label them as criminals, then that constitutes prejudice in more ways than one.
Complaints were reportedly made against Nugent by those whom she alleged to be sex abusers.
She was charged under section 9 of the Cybercrimes Act, which states:
"(1) A person commits an offence if that person uses a computer to send to another person any data (whether in the form of a message or otherwise) -- (a) that is obscene, constitutes a threat or is menacing in nature; and (b) with the intention to harass any person or cause harm, or the apprehension of harm, to any person or property."
It cannot be an acceptable argument that because the justice system is "creaking" and "intolerable" then we should take the law into our own hands and malign people. Since the system is a disgrace, then we must urgently fix it so that it becomes efficient and effective in supporting us.
There can be no justification for crafting our own definition and methods of 'justice' in the context of the rule of law.
In Chambers v. Director of Public Prosecutions [2012] EWHC 2157, Judge, LCJ reasoned: " ... it is inconceivable that grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or menacing messages sent in [this] way would not be potentially unlawful".

It is the alleged menacing actions of the accused that is being criminalised, not free speech per se. In light of the grave misconceptions, the Cybercrimes Act should be amended to make it specific as to the chargeable offences.
Menacing messages communicated using a computer, with the intent to cause harm to another, which could potentially incite a breach of the peace and/or public order, warrants criminal sanctions, and is appropriately prosecuted under section 9 of the Act.
We must show due respect for the rule of law and consideration for others.
Dujon Russell

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