What is harassment?
There are two distinct criminal offences, one of harassment putting people in fear of violence and one without. Stalking is a similar but separate offence and is not covered in this article.
What does it involve?
There has to be a course of conduct involving as little as two incidents against another person or persons.
The dictionary definition is to “torment by subjecting to constant interference or intimidation”.
The law does not provide a comprehensive definition and there are many actions that can foreseeably alarm or cause a person distress that would not constitute harassment.
The offence is aimed at conduct that alarms or causes a person distress and which is oppressive and unreasonable.
What do the prosecution have to prove?
- That there is a course of conduct;
- which amounts to harassment of another; and
- which the defendant knows, or ought to know amounts to harassment of another.
Additionally, for the more serious offence the prosecution has to prove:
- that the course of conduct causes another to fear that violence will be used against him; and
- that the defendant knows or ought to know that his course of conduct will cause another to fear that violence would be used against him
How do I know it is harassment?
The test of whether you ought to know whether the course of conduct amounts to harassment is whether a reasonable person, in possession of the same information, would think the conduct amounted to harassment. The same test applies in respect of fear of violence.
Are there any time limits?
At least one of the incidents has to have occurred within six months of the charge, for the basic offence without violence.
What about defences?
There are three available defences for the basic offence:
- that the course of conduct was for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime;
- that it was conducted under a rule of law;
- that it was reasonable in the circumstances.
Additionally, it is a defence for the more serious offence if the course of conduct was reasonable for the protection of the defendant or another or for the protection of their or another’s property.
What sentence could I get?
For the offence without violence (the basic offence) up to six months imprisonment can be imposed (2 years if racially aggravated).
For the more serious offence involving fear of violence the maximum sentence was 5 years and is 10 years for offences committed on or after 3rd April 2017 (7 or 14 years if racially aggravated, again dependent on date of offence).
A restraining order can also be imposed, the aim of which is to protect the victim of the offence from further incidents, contact or risk of violence. Such an order can prevent contact with the victim and provide for an exclusion zone around their address. A restraining order can be imposed even if you are acquitted of the offence.
The law in respect of harassment and the potential defences is complicated, and there are other specific offences of harassment (for example of debtors) that are not covered in this article.
How we can assist
If you are being investigated for or have been charged with this offence please contact our office for further advice and representation, our solicitors are experts in criminal law and can guide you through the complexities. Contact Andrew Holland (01743 237731 or firstname.lastname@example.org) or Lisa Morris-Jones (01743 237732 or email@example.com) to discuss any criminal law related matters.