New offence of encouraging or assisting serious self-harm

The Online Safety Act 2023 creates a new offence of encouraging or assisting serious self-harm. The offence applies from 31 January 2024. 


What is the new offence?

A person will commit an offence if: 

 “they do a relevant act capable of encouraging or assisting the serious self-harm of another person, and their act was intended to encourage or assist the serious self-harm of another person” 

 Serious self-harm is defined as “self-harm amounting to ……. grievous bodily harm within the meaning of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861”. 

The Act defines the means of communication by which a person “does a relevant act”, which includes in-person or electronic communications, publications, correspondence, and the sending or giving of items with stored electronic data. 

The offence carries a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment. 


Why is this offence needed?

The offence has been introduced in response to concerns about online content encouraging vulnerable people to self-harm. It applies to both children and vulnerable adults.  

The government said that the offence will ensure that trolls sending communications that encourage self-harm face the consequences of their “vile actions”. 

The offence appears to have strong support from interest groups.  

The Molly Rose Foundation, a suicide-prevention charity aimed at young people, said that it is a “significant move” in the right direction. The charity was established by the friends and family of Molly Russell, a 14-year-old girl who took her own life after viewing images promoting suicide and self-harm. In September 2022 a coroner ruled that content Molly had viewed relating to depression, self-harm and suicide “had contributed to her death in a more than minimal way”.  


How can we help?

We have over 30 years’ experience of criminal defence practice. We ensure we remain up to date with any changes in legislation and case law so that we can give our clients the best possible advice. 

If you would like to discuss any aspect of your case, please contact Tarsem Salhan on 0121 605 6000 or email him at