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Harassment and the Law

 

Following a recent case we dealt with it is a useful exercise to review some of the law relating to harassment.

What is harassment?

Harassment claims are governed by the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

To be regarded as harassment the conduct complained of must:

  • occur on at least two occasions for one person; or
  • one occasion where the conduct is against two or more people.

The conduct, which can include speech, must be objectively assessed “as conduct targeted at an individual which is calculated to produce the consequences described in s.7 and which is oppressive and unreasonable.”

The ‘ordinary banter and badinage of everyday life’ is not conduct which can be considered ‘oppressive and unreasonable’ under the Act.

The Truth Hurts

Harassing behaviour is not limited to false degrading comments.

Comments that are true but repeated in such a way over-and-over could fall within the meaning of ‘oppressive and unreasonable’. The Courts have said:

“The fact that the statements are true, and could and would be justified  at trial, would not necessarily prevent the conduct from being harassment.The real question is whether the conduct complained of has extra elements of oppression, persistence and unpleasantness.”

 Following someone down the street whilst shouting ‘adulterer’ through a megaphone can still amount to harassment within the Act regardless of the truth of the statement.

Online harassment

Due to the nature of online publication the target of the comments is likely to have their attention drawn to it on more occasions than on other media. As a result the publication of material online can amount to harassment even when it only published on one site.

In one case online publication meant the harassment could be inferred to be ‘continuous’ due to it being likely to come to the claimants attention on more than one occasion thereby causing them distress on each occasion. A warning for people who operate on a number of social media websites.

A Right to Privacy and Freedom of Expression

Claims often involve arguments the right to your family life being private and the freedom to publish anything.

The test the Court uses involves scrutiny of the comparative importance of each right, with a proportionate balancing of each right being central to deciding where the relative importance of each lies. The Court will weigh arguments for and against interference and restriction of each right whilst considering this.

Harassment claims are by their nature circumstantial however there is clear guidance on the scope of what does and does not amount to harassment and individuals can seek the protection of the Act when they are being subjected to oppressive and degrading treatment, even if such conduct is under the guise of free expression.

Harassment or defamation

In some cases it may well be easier to pursue a harassment claim as opposed to a claim in defamation due to the thresholds of each. Defamation requires a claimant to have suffered/likely to suffer serious harm as a result of statement, whereas harassment only requires there to be a statement, albeit one which is oppressive and unreasonable.

If you are the subject of harassment and need legal advice as to what we can do to help get in touch with us today:

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