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I came across a story about a twenty-something year old male who setup a fake website in order to 'phish' for usernames and passwords for a popular game.

After acquiring the credentials he would then login in to these accounts and remove the in-game currency and transfer it over to his own account.

After a number of years he was finally found out after admitting to friends what he had done.

He was found guilty in court, even though the last time he did it was around 6 years ago.

 

I'm curious as to how this would play out in the UK. I believe the act would be covered under the Computer Misuse Act 1990, but i am un-sure if there would be a time limit for a trial under the Limitations Act 1980.

 

My question is how long would it take for this offence to 'expire' and no longer be punishable under UK law?

If I am misunderstanding the limitation act please let me know.

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  • Does no one know the answer to this?
    – Terry
    May 13, 2016 at 8:48
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    What you want to look at, I believe, is called a "statute of limitations".
    – moonman239
    May 18, 2016 at 8:06
  • Thanks, moonman. I did look that up but I wasn't sure where the crime actually fitted.
    – Terry
    May 18, 2016 at 8:35
  • @moonman239 Not quite. The correct term is "limitation period". A "statute of limitations" refers to the piece of law which sets out limitation periods, although it is often incorrectly used to refer to the limitation period itself.
    – JBentley
    Dec 20, 2022 at 19:36

2 Answers 2

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+50

The offences found in the Computer Misuse Act 1990 are criminal offences. The Limitations Act 1980 deals with civil offences and is thus not relevant. Apparently, there is no general statute of limitations for criminal offences in the UK (though for summary proceedings, the limit is in general 6 months).

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The Computer Misuse Act 1990 contained, until 1 October 2008, its own limitation:

  1. Proceedings for offences under section 1
    (1) A magistrates' court shall have jurisdiction to try an offence under section 1 above if—
        (a) the accused was within its commission area at the time when he did the act which caused the computer to perform the function; or
      (b) any computer containing any program or data to which the accused secured or intended to secure unauthorised access by doing that act was in its commission area at that time.
    (2) Subject to subsection (3) below, proceedings for an offence under section 1 above may be brought within a period of six months from the date on which evidence sufficient in the opinion of the prosecutor to warrant the proceedings came to his knowledge.
    (3) No such proceedings shall be brought by virtue of this section more than three years after the commission of the offence.
    ...

That section was repealed in its entirety on 1 October 2008.

Legislation is not generally retrospective, so it may have continued to limit the prosecution of offences committed prior to 1 October 2008 (which would have expired on 30 September 2011). This could have meant that it was possible to try only those offences committed between October 2008 and when the series was discovered.

Given that the last offence occurred "around six years ago" in 2010, it is possible that at least some of the series — those offences more than three years old — would have been out of time.

However, there doesn't appear to be any saving or transitional provision, so it's more likely that the abolition of the limitation actually made it possible to prosecute all offences committed after 30 September 2005, regardless of when they came to light or reached court.

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    Interesting find! However, on initial reading, regardless of retrospectiveness of this particular section, it doesn't seem to impose any limitation on prosecution by indictment in Crown Courts, just Magistrates Courts which typically handle summary offences (the offences in the Computer Misuse Act are mostly either-way offences).
    – DPenner1
    Dec 20, 2022 at 14:51
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    @DPenner1 Hmm. In fact the effect of this section appears to have been to extend the summary limit from six months to three years, and start the six-month clock when evidence came to light. With its repeal, summary offences are dealt with as normal. Ah well. As you say, it's an interesting quirk; I might leave it here. Dec 20, 2022 at 15:58

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