Law Commission releases ministerial briefing for its review of regulatory gaps and the new media

The briefing, Harmful Digital Communications: The adequacy of the current sanctions and remedies (MB3, 2012), contains a number of recommendations, including giving New Zealanders who are victims of serious personal attacks in cyber-space access to a specialist Communications Tribunal with the power to issue takedown orders and to reveal the identities of anonymous offenders. The Commission is also recommending that all schools be required to implement effective programmes to combat bullying, including cyber-bullying.

Project leader and media law expert Professor John Burrows said overseas jurisdictions, including the United Kingdom, Australia and some states in America, were moving to criminalise communication causing serious distress and mental harm.

"We are recommending New Zealand follow this lead and criminalise 'grossly offensive' digital communications when they cause serious mental or emotional distress."

However, Professor Burrows says that, for reasons of principle and practicality, recourse to the law should be the last resort reserved for those who have suffered serious harm.