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Enforcement at scale – amending the Online Safety Bill for a level playing field

June 21, 2022

We were pleased to see amendments debated by the Public Bill Committee designed to allow Ofcom to go to court and apply for blocking orders against multiple websites at the same time.

As currently drafted, the legislation suggests Ofcom would need to make a separate application for each service.

The Shadow Minister, Alex Davies-Jones set out the case for two amendments to rectify this so a schedule of non-compliant sites could be considered by the court simultaneously.

She was supported by Kirsty Blackman MP, the SNP spokesperson.

The Minister agreed with the intent of the amendments, but argued that the Civil Procedure Rules already allow for multiparty claims so there was no need to change the drafting.  “The government recognises the valid intent behind these amendments. We do want Ofcom to deal with this in an efficient way including if necessary making bulk applications to the court.”

The Minister

The Minister went on to emphasise that the business disruption measures are intended to be a last resort – “unplugging these sites from the internet… is quite a drastic measure.”  He recognised this may be needed for overseas pornographic sites, and at a bulk scale.

The Opposition argued clarity was important and pressed the amendment to the vote.

The government side defeated the amendment.

We will consider the Minister’s reply carefully before the Bill goes back to the whole House of Commons at Report Stage.

 

 

The draft clause states:

123 Service restriction orders
(1) OFCOM may apply to the court for an order under this section (a “service restriction order”) in relation to a regulated service where they consider that—
(a) the grounds in subsection (3) apply in relation to the service, or
(b) in the case of a Part 3 service, the grounds in subsection (4) apply in relation to the service.

The amendment was

Clause 123, page 106, line 36, at end insert—
“(9A) OFCOM may apply to the court for service restriction orders against multiple regulated services with one application, through the use of a schedule of relevant services which includes all the information required by subsection (5).”

Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would give Ofcom the ability to take action against a schedule of non-compliant sites, while still preserving the right of those sites to oppose the application for, and/or appeal through the courts against any, orders to block access or support services.

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