Protection from Harassment Act 1997
The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (c 40) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which, among other things, criminalises and creates a right to protection from stalking and persistent bullying in the workplace. It is "controversial".
 Section 4
This section "could have been drafted more clearly all round". It is not clear why section 4(3)(c) requires the "pursuit of the course of conduct", that is to say, the whole course of conduct, to be reasonable, instead of requiring only that one incident be reasonable.
The drafting of this Act is "deficient". It is so bad that it might well violate Article 7 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The Act is "deplorably vague".
 Penalties and mens rea
The Act defines harassment in section 1(1) as a "course of conduct" amounting to harassment and provides by section 7(3) that a course of conduct must involve conduct on at least two occasions. (Originally these occasions needed to involve the same person, but in 2005 the Act was amended by the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act so that "pursuing a course of conduct" could mean approaching two people just once.) If these requirements are satisfied, the claimant may pursue a civil remedy for damages for anxiety: section 3(2). The use of civil law means that the standards of evidence are substantially lower than for criminal law, for example permitting hearsay. The requirement of a course of conduct shows that Parliament was conscious that it might not be in the public interest to allow the law to be set in motion for one boorish incident.
The editor of "Archbold" says that this Act does not attempt to define "harassment". Section 7(2) of the Act provides that, for the purpose of the interpretation of sections 1 to 5A, references to harassing a person include alarming the person or causing the person distress.
The effect of section 7(2) is that harassment includes causing the victim alarm or distress.
A person guilty of an offence under section 2 is liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or to both. There are also a variety of civil remedies that can be used including awarding of damages, and restraining orders backed by the power of arrest.
Commentators such as George Monbiot have voiced the concern that the amended Act effectively "allows the police to ban any campaign they please", and that it has been used to prosecute peaceful protestors.
The summary offences of harassment "cast the net too wide". The offence created by section 2 is "broad and ill-defined". Its scope is "quite enormous". It might well violate Articles 10 and 11 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (in addition to Article 7 mentioned above). The "course of conduct" element defies definition. The Act contains no definition of "course of conduct" beyond the provisions of sections 7(3) and (4).
 Employers' liability
Employers have vicarious liability for harassment by their employees under section 3 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (see Majrowski v Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Trust). For employees this may provide an easier route to compensation than claims based on discrimination legislation or personal injury claims for stress at work, as the elements of harassment are likely to be easier to prove, the statutory defence is not available to the employer, and it may be easier to establish a claim for compensation. Also as the claim can be made in the County Court costs are recoverable and legal aid is available.
 Baseless complaints
Some magistrates have complained that the creation of an offence of harassment might lead to baseless accusations being made by complainants who are paranoid or vindictive. There is a problem with complainants who read more into other people's behaviour than is warranted. Police officers refer to this as "paranoid woman syndrome".
 Number of prosecutions
In Scotland the Act works slightly differently:
- A term of imprisonment of up to five years can be imposed in very serious cases.
- Civil remedies include damages, interdict and non-harassment orders backed by powers of arrest.
The Act resulted from the efforts of Evonne Leonora Von Heussen. A stalking victim herself, she launched the National Association for Victims of Stalking and Harassment (NASH) in 1993, when her then teen-age daughter was stalked by a dangerous character who was known to carry a knife. After Von Heussen found that she could get no help from the police, lawyers, or her local Member of Parliament she began researching anti-stalking laws in other countries. She opened a help line on which she eventually took tens of thousands of calls. She pursued each call with each victim's MP, and attracted a large amount of media attention. After several years of effort she persuaded the Home Office under Prime Minister John Major to take the issue on as a matter of government policy. She wrote the first draft of the Act and worked closely with ministers and senior civil servants in the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor's Department as the final version took shape. She advised ministers from her seat in the Under Gallery, on the floor of the House of Commons, during the Second Reading Debate. After Royal Assent she worked with Home Office and Lord Chancellor's Department in training judges, lawyers, other court personnel, police and voluntary organizations in the use of the Act. She received the MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List (1997) for her efforts. She also worked as a consultant on a number of court cases involving stalking and harassment.
 See also
- Finch, Emily. The Criminalisation of Stalking. Cavendish. London. 2001.
- Lawson-Cruttenden, Timothy; Addison, Neil. Blackstone's Guide to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. Blackstone Press Limited. 1997.
- Infield, Paul; Platford, Graham. The Law of Harassment and Stalking. Butterwoths. London, Edinburgh, Dublin. 2000. p. x.
- Ormerod, D C. "Commentary" to R v DPP  Crim LR 396 at 398
- Simester, A P; Sullivan, G R. Criminal Law Theory and Doctrine. Hart. 2000. Page 395.
- Ormerod, D C. "Commentary" to DPP v Dunn  Crim LR 130 at 131
- Ormerod, D C. "Commentary" to Kelly v DPP  Crim LR 45 at 46
- Infield, Paul; Platford, Graham. The Law of Harassment and Stalking. Butterworths. London, Edinburgh, Dublin. 2000. p. x.
- Ormerod, D C. "Commentary" to R v Hills  Crim LR 318 at 319
- Simester, A P; Sullivan, G R; Criminal Law Theory and Doctrine. First Edition. Hart. 2000. p 394
- Glazebrook, P R. Blackstone's Statutes on Criminal Law. Tenth Edition. Blackstone Press Limited. 2000. ISBN 1-84174-087-X. Pages xiii and xiv.
- Ashworth, A. Principles of Criminal Law. Sixth Edition. Oxford University Press. 2009. ISBN 978-0-19-954197-3. p 315.
- George Monbiot, The Guardian, 5 February 2009, Why protesters are now stalkers
- Archbold Criminal Pleading, Evidence and Practice. 2009. Para 19-277A at p 1986
- Herring, Jonathan. Criminal Law: Text, Cases, and Materials. OUP. 2004. p 342.
- The Protection from Harassment Act 1997, section 2(2)
- Baker, Dennis J; Williams, Glanville. Textbook of Criminal Law. Third Edition. Sweet & Maxwell. ISBN 978-041-404613-9. 2012. Para 9-071 at p 285.
- Ormerod, D C. "Commentary" to R v Colahan  Crim LR 845 at 846
- Simester, A P; Sullivan, G R. Criminal Law Theory and Doctrine. First Edition. Hart. 2000. p 394
- Simester and Sullivan. Criminal Law Theory and Doctrine. Second Edition. p 398
- Ormerod, D C. "Commentary" to Lau v DPP  Crim LR 580 at 581
-  UKHL 34,  ICR 1199
- Harris, Jessica. Home Office Research Study 203: An Evaluation of the Use and Effectiveness of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. Research, Development and Statistics Directorate, Home Office. 2000. ISBN 1 84082 499 9 Page 42.
- Explanatory Memorandum to the Protection from Harassment Bill.
- Ormerod, D C. "Commentary" to R v Colohan  Crim LR 845 at 846
- Simester, A P; Sullivan, G R; Criminal Law Theory and Doctrine. First Edition. Hart. 2000. p 395.
- Ormerod, David. Smith and Hogan's Criminal Law. Twelfth Edition. Oxford University Press. 2008. ISBN 978-0-19-920258-4. Page 653.
- Simester, A P; Sullivan, G R. Criminal Law Theory and Doctrine. First Edition. Hart. 2000. p 395.
- Official text of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 as in force today (including any amendments) within the United Kingdom, from the UK Statute Law Database
- Neighbours From Hell in Britain: Harassment from your Neighbour
- Weaver v. NATHFE - Race Discrimination Case
- Edward Countryman, The Guardian, 7 January 2009, Those behind the harassment law did not want it to stifle protest
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