Consumers and businesses will be able to sue senders of unsolicited emails and text messages under new proposals from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).
The powers form part of new proposals to crack down on unsolicited electronic communications under the European Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive, which comes into force on 31 October.
Spam is a major headache for businesses and consumers. According to DTI estimates spam accounts for nearly 40 per cent of global emails, and the problem is growing rapidly.
The new proposals set in stone the 'opt-in' process which requires businesses to gain prior consent before sending advertising emails, text messages and phone calls.
Companies using electronic communications to advertise will also have to provide customers with greater transparency and choice in how their personal details are used.
The Office of the Information Commissioner will monitor complaints, with the power to take persistent offenders to court.
"The Information Commissioner's office will be in charge of this area and will react to complaints and go after businesses," said a DTI spokeswoman.
"Persistent offenders could be taken to the magistrates' court where they could face fines of up to £5,000. More serious cases could go before a jury and face much higher fines.
"Additionally, if a consumer or company faces extra expense because of these emails, or has been distressed by the contents, they could take the offenders to court and sue them."
The DTI has started a three-month consultation period, due to end on 19 June, before the guidelines are drawn up later in the summer.
The Direct Marketing Association has welcomed the consultation period, but fears that stringent regulations will stifle European businesses and put them at a disadvantage.
Geoengineering on the sea floor near glaciers would form a new ice shelf to prevent melting
Alterations in capillary blood flow can be caused by body position change
Curiosity rover is in 'normal mode' but not transmitting scientific data back to base
NatWest outage comes a day after Barclays' IT systems shut out customers and staff