Harassment and the pandemic: what protection is in place?

Matt Bosworth, Partner in the Russell-Cooke Solicitors, regulation and compliance team.
Matt Bosworth
3 min Read

The repeated lockdowns enforced on the population to combat the Covid-19 pandemic have brought out many wonderful traits in the nation. Sadly they have also put into sharp focus conflicts between individuals, disputes over land and property rights and have given some a sense of frustration against corporate entities. What would have been minor irritations in normal circumstances have crystallised into all-consuming, life-defining issues during the pandemic.

Therefore, it is not difficult to imagine that cases of harassment may have grown both in frequency and severity. There is already clear evidence of the effect of lockdowns on the occurrence of domestic abuse. In these times, it is important to look at the issue and reflect on what protections are available to victims.

What is the legal definition of 'harassment'?

Harassment is defined as a "course of conduct" (meaning two or more events) which causes the victim to suffer alarm, anxiety and/or distress and which the perpetrator knows (or ought to know, in the eyes of the court) amounts to harassment. The interpretation of the statute has been developed by the courts and the legal threshold is high. It is behaviour which, when taken as a whole, is found to be oppressive, rather than annoying or irritating.  In the cases that come before the courts there is usually a detailed and lengthy history of harassing behaviour.

The Protection from Harassment Act 1997

The law surrounding privacy and reputation management has been developing over the past decade to provide a very practical tool that is now used by both individuals and organisations to prevent harassment of individuals by others.

The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (PHA) was enacted to provide a process for those being subjected to stalkers and other harassing-type offences that could be utilised rapidly compared to other statutory and common law options available at the time.

The PHA has many facets to it that can make it far more effective as a vehicle for enforcing an end to harassment than other areas of both criminal and civil jurisdiction. It also ensures more control over issues as it doesn't require asking a third party such as the Crown Prosecution Service to pursue matters against the perpetrators or involving large-scale litigation costs in the case of libel trials.

The PHA sets out a framework under both civil and criminal jurisdiction routes to protect the victim from harassing behaviour such as:

  • unwanted communication, repetitive phone calls, letters, emails or text messages
  • cyber abuse or online bullying or 'trolling'
  • stalking behaviour such as unwanted visits and unwanted communication such as repetitive phone calls, emails or text messages
  • verbal abuse and threats

Harassment is a criminal offence (section 2, PHA) but the victim may also sue in the civil courts (section 3, PHA) and may claim an injunction and/or damages. Advice needs to be taken on the facts of a particular matter but an individual or company can bring a criminal prosecution and action under the PHA to stop harassment of themselves or their employees.

Not just a 'quick fix'

Russell-Cooke's regulation team has decades of combined experience in providing advice and assistance in issues arising from allegations of harassment and general privacy and reputation management matters. We understand the issues that arise in these circumstances and ensure our client's needs are met not simply for a 'quick fix' but to assist in ensuring the matters at hand are truly remedied and that there is ongoing assistance where required.

Briefings Individuals & families Russell-Cooke Matt Bosworth regulation reputation management corporate reputation privacy private prosecution restraining order injunction Protection from Harassment Act 1997 Covid-19 pandemic