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Harassment, Stalking and Malicious Communication

Olliers has vast experience of defending harassment and other similar allegations which dates back over 25 years. The firm’s reputation for committed and rigorous defence work means that we attract some of the most serious criminal cases in the country.

Harassment

Governed under the Protection of Harassment Act 1997 (PHA), harassment involves pursuing a course of conduct which a person either knew or ought to have known amounted to harassment. There is a more serious offence of harassment that causes a person to fear that violence will be  used. Harassment offences can cover a wide range of activities including, in certain circumstances, text messages and telephone calls. Such offences can also be alleged to have taken place over a significant period of time. Very often allegations of harassment arise in the context of the end of a relationship.

Convictions for harassment offences can have a hugely detrimental effect on an individual’s character and future prospects. As well as the risk of a custodial sentence, a restraining order can be imposed on a defendant, whether they are convicted or acquitted. This would restrict their liberty. It is essential that advice is sought at an early stage where harassment is being alleged.

Stalking

The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, s.111 created 2 new offences (inserted in PHA 1997):

  • Stalking – harassment which involves a course of conduct that amounts to stalking (s.2A(1) PHA 1997)
  • Stalking – s.4A (1) PHA 1997 which can be committed two ways namely:

– Stalking involving fear of violence (s.4A(1)(b)(i) PHA 1997) OR

– Stalking involving serious alarm or distress (s.4A(1)(b)(ii) PHA 1997)

The new stalking offences highlighted:

  • Stalking as a specific behaviour as opposed to harassment more generally.
  • Closed the lacuna when a course of conduct fell short of causing a victim to feel fear of violence but nevertheless caused a victim serious alarm or distress. (In this circumstance the police and prosecutors could only consider a section 2 summary offence).
  • The additional element in the new section 4A offence enable cases to be prosecuted when the defendant’s behaviour falls short of fear of violence.

Definition of Stalking

Stalking is not legally defined but section 2A (3) of the PHA 1997 lists a number of examples of behaviours associated with stalking. The list is not an exhaustive one but gives an indication of the types of behaviour that may be displayed in a stalking offence. The listed behaviours are:

(a) following a person,
(b) contacting, or attempting to contact, a person by any means,
(c) publishing any statement or other material relating or purporting to relate to a person, or purporting to originate from a person,
(d) monitoring the use by a person of the internet, email or any other form of electronic communication,
(e) loitering in any place (whether public or private),
(f) interfering with any property in the possession of a person,
(g) watching or spying on a person.

Harassment that includes one or more of the above features is not automatically stalking. The course of conduct, assessed in the round, must fit the generally received interpretation of the word ‘stalking’.

Stalking can include Cyber-Stalking where someone is monitored via the internet.

Malicious Communication

The law is governed by the Malicious Communication Act 1988 which states that a person commits an offence, under s1, where:

A person sends to another person a letter, electronic communication or article of any description which is either,

  • A message which is indecent or grossly offensive,
  • A threat, or
  • Information which is false and known or believed to be false by the sender, or
  • Any article or electronic communication which is, in whole or part of an indecent or grossly offensive nature

is guilty of the offence if his purpose, or one of his purposes, in sending it is that it should cause distress or anxiety to the recipient or to any other person to whom he intends that it or its contents or nature should be communicated.

It will be noted that this offence can be committed online as well as via other means. Most investigations for these cases nowadays are for online communication via social media or other forms of electronic communication. This offence can be used against alleged online trolls.

Olliers Solicitors – Specialist Criminal Defence Lawyers

If you are facing an allegation of Harassment, Stalking and Malicious Communication, contact us by telephone on 0161 834 1515 email info@olliers.com or complete the form below to send us a message.

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