The Protection from Harassment Act 1997

The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 is an act which originally was intended for the protection of woman but is now of much wider use.

The act can provide protection in a wide variety of disputes. Neighbourhood disputes, bullying at work, protection from the media, libel disputes.

The act is not only valuable against individuals but also companies, so a newspaper could be held to be harassing a party.

Only an individual can bring a claim under the act. However it could be used to protect individual employees and Directors from harassment.

The relevant sections are section 1 and section 3 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 which deals with the civil remedy.

“1 Prohibition of harassment

(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 or involves harassment of another if a reasonable person in possession of the same information would think the course of conduct amounted to or involved harassment of the other.

(3) Subsection (1)…does not apply to a course of conduct if the person who pursued it shows…

(c) that in the particular circumstances the pursuit of the course of conduct was reasonable.

3 Civil remedy

(1) An actual or apprehended breach of section 1(1) may be the subject of a claim in civil proceedings by the person who is or may be the victim of the course of conduct in question.

(2) On such a claim, damages may be awarded for (among other things) any anxiety caused by the harassment and any financial loss resulting from the harassment…

7 Interpretation of this group of sections

(1) This section applies for the interpretation of sections 1 to 5A.

(2) References to harassing a person include alarming the person or causing the person distress.

(3) A “course of conduct” must involve –

(a) in relation to a single person (see section 1(1)), conduct on at least two occasions in relation to that person…

(3A) A person’s conduct on any occasion shall be taken, if aided, abetted, counselled or procured by another –

(a) to be conduct on that occasion of the other (as well as conduct of the person whose conduct it is); and

(b) to be conduct in relation to which the other’s knowledge and purpose, and what he ought to have known, are the same as they were in relation to what was contemplated or reasonably foreseeable at the time of the aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring.

(4) “Conduct” includes speech.

(5) References to a person, in the harassment of a person, are references to a person who is an individual.”

In the Court of Appeal case of Iqbal v Dean Manson Solicitors [2011] EWCA Civ 123, Rix LJ completed a useful examination of the the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

He considered what a course of conduct might be.

He considered that the individual did not need to establish that each letter as in this case,was capable of being harassment but the cumulative effect of the individual acts.

He considered the meaning of harassment and drew guidance from the Court of Appeal in Thomas v News Group Newspapers

conduct targeted at an individual which is calculated to produce the consequences described in section 7 and which is oppressive and unreasonable

He referred to Baroness Hale in Majrowski v Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust [2006] UKHL 34, [2007] 1 AC 224 and the difference between

the ordinary banter and badinage of life and genuinely offensive and unacceptable behaviour

Rix LJ held that

the Act is concerned with courses of conduct which amount to harassment, rather than with individual instances of harassment”.

In other words,

it is the course of conduct which has to have the quality of amounting to harassment, rather than individual instances of conduct

The effect is therefore cumulative so an individual act may not be but as a whole can be taken as harassment.

AMP v Persons Unknown

In this case the Court found that the dissemination of the photos could amount to harassment and it granted an injunction on both grounds of privacy and Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

ZAM v CFW and TFW [2011] EWHC 476 (QB)

The Judge found that the Claimant had established the necessary ingredients for an injunction under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, as a result of the threats to publish seriously libellous allegations the claimant was the victim of a course of conduct amounting to harassment which alarmed him or caused him distress.

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