Stalking – Harassment

It is National Stalking Awareness week. Many charities are calling for the law to get tougher on stalkers. More than 80 MPs have asked for the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 to be reviewed.

 

What is the current law on harassment/stalking?

 

1. Harassment - putting people in fear of violence (s4 Protection from Harassment Act 1997)

That you

  •  pursued a course of conduct on two or more occasions
  •  causing another to fear violence would be used against him/her
  •  which you knew or ought to have known would cause that other person to fear violence would be used against him/her.

The maximum sentence for this offence is a six month custodial sentence if you are sentenced in the Magistrates Court or a five-year custodial sentence if you are sentenced in the Crown Court.

2 . Racially or religiously aggravated harassment – putting people in fear of violence (s32 Crime and Disorder Act 1998)

As above but also that

  • at the time of committing the offence (including immediately before or after)
  • you demonstrated hostility towards the victim based on his presumed or actual membership of a racial or religious group; or
  • the offence was motivated by this. 

 The maximum sentence for this offence is a seven-year custodial sentence.

3. Harassment – without violence (s1,(1) (a)(b), s1A (a)(b)(c) s2 Protection from Harassment Act 1997)

That you

s1(a) and (b)

  • pursued a course of conduct amounting to harassment of another
  • which you knew or ought to have known amounted to harassment.

s1A (a), (b) and (c)

  • pursued a course of conduct which amounted to harassment of two or more people
  • which you knew or ought to have known amounted to harassment of those persons; and
  • by which you intended to persuade any person either not to do something that s/he is entitled or required to do or to do something that he is not under any obligation to do.

s2

  • if without reasonable excuse or lawful authority,  you engage in a course of conduct as set out above you will be guilty of an offence

The maximum sentence for this offence is a six month custodial sentence.

4. Racially or religiously aggravated harassment – non violent (s32 Crime and Disorder Act 1998)

As above but also that

  • at the time of committing the offence (including immediately before or after)
  • you demonstrated hostility towards the victim based on his presumed or actual membership of a racial or religious group; or
  • the offence was motivated by this.

The maximum sentence for this offence is a two-year custodial sentence.

What is harassment?

There is no single definition of harassment and whether your behaviour amounts to harassment depends on the facts and circumstances of your case.  Harassment can include words or behaviour that cause another alarm and distress. 

What is the test for this?

Whether you knew or ought to have known that your words or actions amount to harassment. If a reasonable person would have known, then you should have too. A classic example of the lesser offence would be where following the break up of your relationship, you text or phone the victim repeatedly to tell her/him how much you love and miss them AND you knew or should have known that your ex-partner didn’t want you to continue doing this, for example they told you to stop or simply hung up on you whenever you rang. As you can see for the lesser offence there is no requirement that your contact was in any way hostile or nasty  JUST that the contact amounted to harassment and that you should have known this. Obviously there are many more extreme examples of  harassment and in those cases where violence is used or threatened it is likely you will be charged with the more serious offence (s4).

What amounts to a course of conduct?

Unwanted behaviour towards another person on at least two occasions for example: text messages; phone calls; letters; turning up at the victim’s house; e-mails. The minimal two occasions must in some way be connected. Two random isolated incidents for the purpose of these offences do not constitute a course of conduct.

What amounts to fear of violence?

Threats of violence or actual violence that cause the victim to fear that violence will be used against him, for example threatening to kill the victim’s dog or threatening to break into his house and attack him/her.

Is there a defence to these offences?

Yes

  • That you didn’t act as alleged
  • That your conduct was reasonable in all the circumstances
  • That you pursued the course of conduct for the prevention or detection of crime
  • That you pursued the course of conduct under an enactment of law

 If I am convicted of an offence of harassment can the court impose any further orders?

Yes. A restraining order which prevents you from doing anything specified in the order; for example, going within 200 meters of the victim’s address. The order lasts for a specified time or until further order and breach of the order is a separate offence, maximum sentence for which is a five-year custodial sentence. If the court has made a restraining order against you it is important you fully comply with it.

Harassment, alarm or distress to  a person in their home

s42 and 42A of the Criminal Justice Act creates a power to direct a person to leave a dwelling for the purpose of preventing harassment.

For the purpose of this offence you will commit an offence if you

  • are outside or in the vicinity of any premises used as a dwelling.
  • are there in order to represent to the victim or persuade him that he should not do something he is entitled to or do something that he is under no obligation to.
  • intend your presence to amount to harassment, alarm or distress to the resident or that you ought to have known it would do so.
  • that your presence did or could have amounted to harassment, alarm or distress to either the resident of the dwelling or a resident of another dwelling in the vicinity.

The maximum sentence for this offence is a six month custodial sentence.

Please note that this is only intended as a summary of the law. If you have been accused of harassment or stalking then you should always seek legal advice.

If you want to see the link to the Stalking Awareness Week report on the BBC website – please click here

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