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Is there an exemption to the illegality of blackmailing if that blackmailing is of the sort "if you don't stop blackmailing me, I will call the police"?

Why am I asking this exactly?

A more general form of this question would be: Is it legal to say "if you don't stop doing that illegal thing, I will call the police", or is this illegal since it's kind of blackmail? I am not asking this, as I assume it is illegal. It's blackmail.

So, what's different with the case at the top? Well, I believe there may be an exception to the above assumed law. Court cases are generally public; that means that, presumably, the sensitive information used by the blackmailer would also become public. If the victim cannot legally counter-blackmail with a threat of reporting the blackmailer to the police, then the victim practically has no legal way to stop the information from being released without going along with the blackmailer's demand(s)*.

*unless they can somehow legally remove the sensitive information from the blackmailer' possession.

2 Answers 2

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Is there an exemption to the illegality of blackmailing if that blackmailing is off the sort "if you don't stop blackmailing me, I will call the police"?

Yes

Blackmail is an offence contrary to section 22 of the Theft Act 1968, which includes the "reasonableness" defence:

(1)A person is guilty of blackmail if, with a view to gain for himself or another or with intent to cause loss to another, he makes any unwarranted demand with menaces; and for this purpose a demand with menaces is unwarranted unless the person making it does so in the belief—

  • (a)that he has reasonable grounds for making the demand; and

  • (b)that the use of the menaces is a proper means of reinforcing the demand.

Telling someone to stop or you will inform the police about their criminal behaviour maybe deemed a "demand with menaces" but it is not "unwarranted" so not unreasonable in the circumstances described.

The same principle would apply to "if you don't stop doing that illegal thing, I will call the police"

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    ^The difference between a warranted and unwarranted demand was explained to me as "if you don't pay your bill, the energy company can cut off your gas but they can't cut off your legs"
    – Rick
    May 12 at 14:29
  • Thanks, I definitely see how (a) and (b) apply to the case that I mentioned in my post. However, I do feel a bit doubtful that it would apply to any case of the form "if you don't stop doing that illegal thing, I will call the police". In such cases, (a) is definitely met, but it seems that (b) wouldn't always be met. Imagine a mentally ill person breaking that law during a psychosis, who is visibly and gradually agitated by the blackmailer's continual threats of calling the police; the blackmailer would then be worsening the situation, and they'd reasonably be aware of it.
    – user110391
    May 12 at 18:57
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It’s probably blackmail

Blackmail is dealt with in Part 4B of the Crimes Act 1900. It involves making unwarranted demands with the intention to gain, cause a loss, or influencing the exercise of a public duty. Accusing someone of committing a serious indictable offence (like blackmail) is explicitly called out as a class of “demand” that is captured by the crime.

However, a demand is only “unwarranted” if “he or she has reasonable grounds for making the demand and reasonably believes that the use of the menaces is a proper means of reinforcing the demand.” And “menaces” means “an express or implied threat of any action detrimental or unpleasant.”

So, prima facie, the threat of an allegation to police that someone has committed or is committing a crime is a “demand” with “menaces”.

So the question is, is it “unwarranted”? Well, that will depend on the circumstances. However, bearing in mind that there is a positive duty to report serious indictable offences (s316), it’s difficult to see how a person who is obliged to report the original blackmail to the police is “a proper means of reinforcing the demand” Reporting it is the “proper means”. Not reporting when you have a legal obligation to do in return for a “gain” sure looks like blackmail.

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