The sending of emails of a sexual nature could earn the sender a place on the sex offenders' register under changes to existing legislation that came into force today.
An Order has amended the Sexual Offences Act of 2003 to make it possible for offences which are not primarily sexual in nature to be punishable by a sexual offences prevention order (SOPO).
Improper use of a public communications network is forbidden already by the Communications Act 2003. It defines improper use as sending a message that is "grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character".
The amendment to the Sexual Offences Act add that offence to the list of others that qualify for a SOPO. The Order does not extend to Scotland.
The Home Office says that the new provisions cover such activities as nuisance phone calls, obscene messages and harrassment emails of a sexual nature.
The changes amend the two sections of the Act which list offences, widening their scope and increasing their number. It brings electronic communication firmly into the sights of the Act.
Anyone issued with a SOPO is subject to its conditions. A SOPO bans a person from certain behaviour for a fixed period which must be five years or more. People issued with a SOPO are added to the sex offenders' register.
The register is designed to monitor and control the behaviour of, and therefore the risk posed by, sex offenders. The amendments now made are designed to include acts which are not in themselves sexual in nature but which relate to sex offences.
A person who has committed one of the offences listed may or may not be handed a SOPO and added to the sex offenders' register. That is at the discretion of a judge or of the police, the Home Office said. Police and courts are told to issue a SOPO if they think that a person will re-offend if not issued with one.