Mike Wright – The Telegraph Feb 1, 2020
Posting anti-vaccine propaganda on social media could become a criminal offence – even if those promoting it believe the pseudoscience, the UK’s new criminal Law Commissioner has said.
In her first interview since taking up the role, Penney Lewis, revealed she is considering whether laws should be amended to “lower the threshold” of criminality for posting false information online that endangers lives.
It comes as the Health Secretary Matt Hancock said in September he was “looking very seriously” at making vaccinations compulsory for state school pupils after the UK lost its official measles-free country status due to a steady fall in MMR immunisation rates.
Currently, people are protected from prosecution if they sincerely believe the misinformation they publish under laws designed more to tackle bomb hoaxes than internet health conspiracies.
Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph, Prof. Lewis said current legislation also meant people only faced prosecution for publishing information with the purpose of causing “annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety”.
However, she cited anti-vaccination posts and people advocating cancer patients treat themselves with the apricot extract laetrile instead of chemotherapy as areas where lives could be endangered.
The former King’s College professor said: “If their purpose is actually not to [cause annoyance or anxiety], but they think they are doing the right thing by posting false information about a vaccine, for example, it is then should there be a recklessness-based fault element or even a lower (criminal) threshold?
“So where they’ve really not done their homework and they’ve been negligent in the way they have spread this false information or disseminated it.”
“I think we need to look into whether there is a role (for criminal law) in relation to false health information.”
However, Prof Lewis said that criminalisation would be “difficult to justify” in cases where no malicious intent could be proved.