The Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill was passed by President Michael D. Higgins on the 28th of December 2020. This Bill can also be referred to as “Coco’s Law” after Nicole, Coco, Fox.
Nicole Fox took her own life in 2018 at the young age of 21 years old, after three years of relentless online bullying. At the time of Nicole’s death there was no legislation in Ireland that could hold Nicole’s abusers accountable for their actions. However, this has recently changed due to Jackie, Nicole’s mother, fiercely advocating for Irish Laws to evolve to reflect the society we live in.
The primary purpose of “Coco’s Law” is to amend the law and to create new offences in relation to harassment and harmful communication, both online and offline. This Bill has provided for two new offences dealing with the non-consensual distribution of intimate images. This Bill defines an “intimate image” as any visual representation, made by any means,
a. of the person’s genitals, buttocks or anal region and, in the case of a female, her breasts;
b. of the underwear covering the person’s genitals, buttocks or anal region and, in the case of a female, her breasts;
c. in which the person is nude;
d. in which the person is engaged in sexual activity.
Section 2 of this Bill creates the new offence that will address the distribution or publication of an intimate image without consent, with intent to cause harm to the victim. This offence has successfully criminalised the distribution or publication of an intimate image without the consent of the person who is the subject of the image. To be liable to this offence the person who distributes or publishes the image must have intended to cause harm or been reckless as to whether these acts would seriously interfere with the peace and privacy of the other person. The maximum penalties for this offence for conviction on indictment are up to 7 years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine.
Section 3 provides for an offence of recording, distributing or publishing an intimate image without consent. This is a strict liability offence as there is no requirement to prove an intention to cause harm. The maximum penalty for this offence on summary conviction is 12 months imprisonment and/or a €5,000 fine.
Under this Bill it will also be an offence to threaten to distribute or publish an intimate image. Section 4 of this Bill will criminalise the once-off sending of a threatening or grossly offensive message where the person who is sending the message or communication intends to cause harm to the person who is the recipient of the message. The maximum penalties for this offence for conviction on indictment are 2 years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine.
Coco’s Law is a welcomed piece of legislation as the distribution of intimate images and incidents of online harassment has increased significantly in recent years. This Bill has rightfully criminalised these actions and now permits An Garda Síochána and the Courts to prosecute those who commit this abusive crime.