What are the laws on sending inappropriate pictures in the UK?

28th June 2024
Dawn McKnight headshot

Dawn McKnight


Today, the ease of digital communication has led to a huge surge in image-sharing activities. However, what may seem like harmless exchanges can sometimes cross legal boundaries. From explicit content shared between consenting adults, to the dangers of sending inappropriate pictures to minors, the laws surrounding sending inappropriate images are complex and multifaceted. Below, we take a closer look at what is considered illegal activity online, the potential penalties, and the importance of understanding consent and privacy rights.

What are the laws on sending inappropriate pictures in the UK?

In the UK, laws prohibit sending inappropriate pictures, with penalties varying based on factors like consent and the recipient’s age. So before you send any images as such, it is essential to know which ones are considered illegal and what is not. 

Sending inappropriate pictures between adults 

Sharing intimate images or videos privately between consenting adults is not considered illegal. However, it crosses legal boundaries when someone displays, sends, or uploads such content without the consent of the individuals depicted. This includes ‘revenge porn’, where intimate images or videos are shared without the victim’s permission. 

Sending inappropriate pictures to a minor 

It is illegal to send inappropriate pictures to a minor, as it constitutes a form of child sexual exploitation and falls under the purview of various laws. The Protection of Children Act 1978 and the Criminal Justice Act 1988 criminalise the creation, distribution, and possession of indecent images of children. 

If you are found guilty of possessing an inappropriate picture of a minor, the maximum sentence you could face is a five-year custodial sentence. If you are found guilty of sending an indecent image of a child, the maximum sentence is a 10-year custodial sentence.

Sending inappropriate pictures between children

Sending inappropriate pictures between children can also have legal consequences. While children may not fully comprehend the implications, the laws are designed to protect them from harm. 

That said, the Protection of Children Act 1978 and the Criminal Justice Act 1988 do, in fact, address the creation, distribution, and possession of indecent images, irrespective of the age of the sender. In addition, the Malicious Communications Act 1988 and the Communications Act 2003 also address cyberbullying and harassment instances, including the sharing of inappropriate content. 

In most cases, authorities may intervene to educate, counsel, or, in severe cases, prosecute offenders, prioritising the safety and wellbeing of all involved children.

What other types of unsolicited images are illegal in the UK? 

You should also be aware of the other types of unsolicited images that are considered illegal in the UK, so that you understand the sentencing guidelines involved if you are accused. 

Revenge porn

Revenge porn involves the non-consensual distribution of private sexual images or videos, typically by a former partner or acquaintance, to humiliate, harass, or revenge. This form of abuse often exploits intimate moments shared in confidence, causing emotional distress and harm to the victim. It can also involve the unauthorised sharing of explicit content via social media, websites, or other digital platforms. Under the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015, perpetrators accused of revenge porn can face penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment for up to two years. However, in more serious cases involving aggravating factors like coercion or repeated offences, sentences can be more severe. 


Upskirting refers to the invasive act of taking a photograph or video of under someone’s clothing without their consent, typically to capture images of their genitals, buttocks, or underwear. In the UK, upskirting became a criminal offence under the Voyeurism (Offences) Act 2019. While the severity of the sentence depends on factors such as the intent behind the act, the age of the victim, and any aggravating circumstances, perpetrators can face significant penalties, including imprisonment for up to two years, along with being placed on the sex offenders register. 

Child pornography 

Child pornography refers to the creation, distribution, or possession of images or videos depicting minors under the age of 18 engaged in sexual activities. This is considered a severe criminal offence under various laws, such as the Protection of Children Act 1978 and the Criminal Justice Act 1988. In fact, the sentencing guidelines for child pornography offences are stringent and reflect the gravity of the harm inflicted on victims. Perpetrators can face lengthy prison sentences, with penalties ranging from several years to life imprisonment, depending on the severity of the offence and any aggravating factors.

What happens if you’re charged with sending inappropriate pictures?

If you are charged with sending inappropriate pictures, it is important to understand that there can be severe legal consequences. Depending on your case’s jurisdiction and specifics, you may face penalties such as fines, community service, probation, or even imprisonment. In addition, having a criminal record could negatively affect your employment, relationships, and personal reputation. 

Therefore, seeking legal advice from experienced indecent image solicitors like Lawtons is crucial. Professionals like us specialise in defending individuals accused of sexual offences and can provide expert guidance and representation throughout legal proceedings. We will assess your case, offer legal strategies, and advocate for the best possible outcome, all while protecting your rights. Contact us today to effectively navigate the complex legal process and mitigate the consequences of the charges you face.

Related Articles