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UK gov's troll-finder general says he's hanging up his axe

Prosecution chief will quit after finishing web abuse playbook

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The UK's director of public prosecutions, web troll-tackling Keir Starmer, will step down from his job in October this year.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) confirmed that he will complete his five-year term in the autumn. It did not comment on any possible candidates to replace the outgoing director.

Last year, Starmer warned the courts could be clogged up by cases involving trolling on social networks and the wider internet - after public outrage over tasteless online messages led to Brits being arrested under a malicious communications law.

By way of comparison, the leading QC pointed out that roughly 340 million tweets are sent each day and 1 billion people use Facebook each month - whereas Blighty's magistrates and crown court judges processed only 100,000 and 90,000 cases in a year and that's all criminal cases, not just the ones related to web trolling.

Starmer went on to say: "If only a small percentage [of such online posts deemed to be offensive] end up the wrong side of criminal law, millions of cases could potentially be put into our system, more cases than the combined number of every other offence on the statute book."

In the past year, there has been an explosion of investigations into internet trolls accused by offended Brits of posting hurtful comments on Facebook, Twitter and other websites.

The end result has led to arrests that mainly cite section 127 of the 2003 Communications Act, which outlaws messages that are "grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character".

But the CPS's stats tell a slightly different story to the one Starmer alarmingly waved around in public: 1,286 charges involving breaches of the aforementioned section were dealt with by the UK courts in 2011, less than one per cent of court traffic.

A public consultation into the CPS's handling of online rants was completed in March 2013, after Starmer issued an interim set of prosecution guidelines to keep weaker trolls out of the dock and free the beaks from an overload of cases.

A CPS spokeswoman told The Register today that final guidelines will be published at some point in the summer, adding that no official date has been set. ®

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