Increasing levels of online child abuse and domestic abuse, organised cyber crime and the online recruitment for the purpose of terrorism has, of late, found some agencies overwhelmed in the fight against illegal practices.

As a direct response to this, March this year saw Royal Assent given to a new Serious Crime Act 2015. But already essential revisions have had to be made in an attempt to close down dangerous sites and users who prey on society’s most vulnerable.

Part 2 of the Act has implemented a number of changes to the Computer Misuse Act 1990 to ensure that sentences for attacks on computer systems fully reflect the damage they cause.

The offence will carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for cyber attacks which result in loss of life, serious illness or injury or serious damage to national security, and 14 years’ imprisonment for cyber attacks causing or creating a significant risk of severe economic or environmental damage or social disruption.

The criminal process will be swiftly brought to the attention of those in schools and colleges so that pupils become aware of the potential threats facing them as they log on to their computer everyday. Equally it is hoped that the necessary authorities will be able to target potential problems, and individuals who find themselves the victims of terrorist activities, through the systemised checking of web content.

The Serious Crime Act 2015 also touches on a number of legislative proposals in the Serious and Organised Crime Strategy. In doing so, it builds on existing laws passed to ensure that the National Crime Agency, the police and other law enforcement agencies have the powers they need to pursue, disrupt and bring to justice serious and organised criminals.

On top of this, the 2015 Act includes provisions to strengthen the protection of vulnerable children and others – and thanks to high profile campaigning, now includes those victims of female genital mutilation and domestic abuse.

Part 5 of the 2015 Act also makes a number of changes to the civil and criminal law to enhance the protection of children and others, and this now includes conduct likely to cause psychological suffering or injury as well as physical harm. It’s also been written in a way that acknowledges the large scale problem of being able to identify when someone is attempting sexual communication with a child.

The changes mean that this would automatically criminalise an adult who communicates with a child for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification, where the communication is sexual or if it is intended to elicit from the child a communication which is sexual.

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 has now been amended to remove possibly outdated references and language used when talking about child prostitution and pornography. It replaces these terms with references to the sexual exploitation of children (recognising children as victims). This Part also amends the Street Offences Act 1959 to decriminalise under-18s selling sex in the street and in doing so again recognises children as victims in such circumstances rather than consenting participants (buying sex from an under-18 in any circumstances would remain illegal).

It has also made it illegal to possess paedophile manuals such as any item that contains advice or guidance about abusing children sexually. The offence will be subject to a three year maximum prison sentence.

For those who more recently have been addressing FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) offences, they will be relieved to hear that both the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003  and the Prevention of Female Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act 2005  have been updated so that they now apply to habitual, as well as permanent, UK residents.

It is also now a criminal offence to fail to protect a girl from risk of FGM and places a mandatory duty on those working in regulated professions such as teachers, social workers and healthcare workers to report the discovery of FGM appearing to have been carried out on a girl under 18.

On the subject of domestic abuse, significant progress has also been made. The new act has now criminalised patterns of repeated or continuous coercive or controlling behaviour “where perpetrated against an intimate partner or family member, causing victims to feel fear, alarm or distress.”

The speed at which new legislation can now be updated, so that it reacts to the needs of those most vulnerable, will come as a welcome change for those whose job it is to protect and educate.

The internet waits for no one and and the decision makers must react when the need arises.

Serious Crime Act 2015 –

Computer Misuse Act 1990 –

Serious and Organised Crime Strategy –

National Crime Agency –

 The Sexual Offences Act 2003 –

 Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 –

 Prevention of Female Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act 2005 –

Street Offences Act 1959 –