Sexting in England, Wales and Northern Ireland

“Sexting” is not a legal term, but one used by academics and journalists. The Communications Act 2003 applies across the UK. However other sexting-related offences would be prosecuted under different legislation in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and Scotland. Producing, possessing and distributing indecent images of children (persons under 18 years) with or without their consent is, in principle, illegal.

Having or collecting sexting photos or videos on phone or computer

Research shows that regular use of pornography encourages sexting and cyberbullying particularly in boys. If you, or someone you know, has any indecent images or videos of somebody who is under 18 years, he or she would technically be in possession of an indecent image of a child even if they are the same age. This is against section 160 of Criminal Justice Act 1988 and section 1 of the Protection of Children Act 1978. The Crown Prosecution Services will only proceed to trial in cases where they consider that it is in the public interest to do so. They would take into account the ages and the nature of the relationship of the parties involved. See here for the guidance on prosecution in England and Wales.

Sending sexting photos or videos

If your child is under 18 years and he or she sends, uploads or forwards indecent images or videos to friends or boyfriends/girlfriends, this would in principle also breach section 1 of the Protection of Children Act 1978. Even if they are photos of him or herself, such behaviour technically constitutes ‘distributing’ child abuse material.

The real concern is that even just being interviewed by the police will result in a person being recorded on the police criminal history system and can appear in employment checks at a later stage. This article in the Guardian newspaper highlights some of the issues.

Kent police have also stated that they are considering charging a parent as the responsible person with the contract for the smartphone that sent the offending photo.

This is a general guide to the law and does not constitute legal advice.

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