An offence of harassment is committed under section 2 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 if a person pursues a course of conduct (2 or more incidents) which amounts to the harassment of another and which the individual knew or ought to have known would amount to the harassment of another.
Offences under section 2 are offences that can only be heard in the magistrates’ court. The maximum sentence available to the court is 6 months imprisonment and/or a fine. The court can also make a Restraining Order (see below for more information).
Harassment with intent
Under section 4 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, a more serious offence of harassment with intent is committed when a defendant pursues a course of conduct on two or more occasions which causes a person to fear that violence will be used against them on each of those occasions. The defendant must know or ought to have known that his conduct would be such as to cause someone to fear that violence would be used against them and the test applied is whether a reasonable person would have so believed.
If a person is found not guilty after trial of an offence harassment with intent, the court can find them guilty in the alternative of the lesser offence of harassment under section 2.
This offence is what is known as an “either-way” offence which means that they can be tried in the magistrates’ court or the crown court. The maximum sentence in the magistrates’ court is 12 months imprisonment. The maximum sentence available to the crown court is 10 years imprisonment. A Restraining Order would usually be made by the court (see below for more information).
Under section 2A of The Protection from Harassment Act 1997, an offence of stalking is committed if a person pursues a course of conduct (2 or more incidents) which amounts to the harassment of another and that behaviour amounts to stalking. Stalking is not legally defined, but some examples of conduct which could amount to harassment are provided which include the following:
- Following a person
- Contacting/attempting to contact someone
- Publishing statements or material about the victim
- Monitoring the victim
- Loitering in a public or private place
- Interfering with property
- Watching or spying on a person
The individual must know or ought to have known that their behaviour amounted to harassment.
This offence is one that can only be dealt with in the magistrates’ court and carries a maximum penalty of 6 months imprisonment. The court will usually also make a Restraining Order (see below for further information).
Stalking with fear of violence
A more serious offence of stalking where fear of violence or serious alarm or distress is caused, which has a substantial adverse effect on a person’s usual day-to-day activities is committed under section 4A of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. Serious alarm and distress is not defined in the legislation but can include behaviour which causes the victim to suffer emotional or psychological trauma or result in them having to change the way they live their life.
If a person is charged with the more serious offence under section 4A, and found not guilty after trial, it is possible for the jury to still find the defendant guilty of the lesser offence under section 2A.
The maximum penalty for this offence is 12 months imprisonment in the magistrates’ court or 10 years imprisonment in the crown court.
As an alternative to a prosecution for stalking, Sections 2 and 4 of the Protection from Harassment Act can also still be used to prosecute harassment.
In cases of harassment or stalking, it is commonplace for the courts to make a Restraining Order with various conditions which could include a condition not to contact the complainant or preventing the defendant from attending certain locations. Breach of a Restraining Order is viewed very seriously by the courts and frequently results in a prison sentence.
A Restraining Order can be made even if the defendant is not convicted of any offence.