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Harassment is a crime that affects a very large number of individuals. It can take many different forms – from harassment by a neighbour or an ex-partner, to harassment at work or by companies in respect of civil proceedings, or ‘stalking’ and sexual harassment.
In any of these examples, you are entitled to take action in the criminal courts to ensure your present and future safety and well-being, even if the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) choose not to pursue your case. Any member of the public may bring a private prosecution to protect their interests either against a named individual, group of individuals, or company.
A conviction for harassment has a low evidential threshold; the details are contained within section 2 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, which states:
A person who pursues a course of conduct in breach of section 1 is guilty of an offence […]
Section 1 in turn provides:
(1) A person must not pursue a course of conduct: (a) which amounts to harassment of another, and (b) which he knows or ought to know amounts to harassment of the other.
(2) For the purposes of this section, the person whose course of conduct is in question ought to know that it amounts to harassment of another if a reasonable person in possession of the same information would think the course of conduct amounted to harassment of the other […]
Therefore, in order to prove harassment one has to prove each of the following elements of the offence:
a course of conduct, which amounted to harassment of another and that the defendant knew or ought to have known that this conduct amounted to harassment of another.
In relation to proving a ‘course of conduct’, section 7 of the Act provides a definition as “in the case of conduct in relation to a single person … conduct on at least two occasions in relation to that person.”
So, if someone has caused you distress with the requisite intention on at least two occasions, then they will be guilty of an offence.
An example of a provable ‘course of conduct’ that did, in fact, amount to harassment was in Pratt v. DPP . In this case, the High Court upheld a conviction where the course of conduct consisted of an incident where the defendant threw a beaker of water over his wife, and then, three months later, as the relationship continued to deteriorate, chased her up the stairs, swearing at her and repeatedly questioning her.
A private prosecution immediately gives you the full protection of the criminal courts, complete with criminal law sanctions for breaking court orders.
You can be protected immediately – as soon as an individual is summonsed to court they will be subject to bail. Conditions can be attached to bail to ensure that the person bailed has no contact with named individuals, either directly or indirectly. Conditions can alternatively be attached to bail prohibiting a certain course of conduct. Failure to adhere to these conditions is a separate criminal offence and can lead to the person being remanded in custody until the trial takes place.
There are also ancillary orders that the court can make to ensure your continued protection. Following successful conviction the courts are entitled to, and normally do, make orders that continue to protect the victim after the case has finished. These orders are made under the Protection from Harassment Act and failure to adhere to them is criminal offence that can be punished by imprisonment. Orders under the Protection from Harassment Act can even be made if the defendant is acquitted and private prosecution is often seen as a low-risk, low-cost alternative to pursuing a civil restraining order or injunction.
The costs of prosecution and investigation may be recovered from the state or the individual prosecuted and, in certain circumstances, financial compensation will be awarded to the victim by the courts.
Sadly, more and more people are being harassed over the internet by so-called internet ‘trolls.’ This can constitute harassment, but often the police and CPS decline to take action.
Internet trolls hide behind the anonymity of the internet to harass their victims. It may, therefore, be necessary to apply to the High Court for a disclosure order to force relevant social media websites, such as Facebook, to disclose the identity of those harassing you, so that a prosecution can be brought against them.
If you have been harassed, want to prosecute the individual and get protection from harassment through the Criminal Courts contact Quentin Hunt for a no obligation conversation about how your case can be brought to court.