Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Harassment of Members

Circular No: NP//13

Our ref: LA//12

16th April 2013


Dear Colleague,

Harrassment of Members.

The Council of Executives instructed me to obtain Legal Advice regarding Press Surveillance and when this could amount to Harrassment and Stalking.

The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (‘the Act’) protects individuals from harassment and stalking. A person must not pursue a course of conduct, which amounts to harassment of another and which he/she knows or ought to know amounts to harassment of the other. The question of whether he/she ought to know that his/her conduct amounts to harassment is decided by asking whether a reasonable person in possession of the information he/she has would think the course of conduct amounted to harassment.

The Act does not define ‘harassment’, but the courts have said it is conduct targeted at an individual which is calculated to produce the consequences described in the Act and which is oppressive and unreasonable. There is a distinction between conduct which is unattractive and unreasonable, and conduct which is oppressive and unreasonable. The distinction will depend on the context in which the conduct takes place. Harassment is civilly actionable by the person who is the victim of it, and both an injunction and damages can be obtained. Damages may be awarded for anxiety and financial loss.

The Act primarily created a criminal cause of action, and civil actions take their lead from the criminal position under the Act. To cross the boundary from the regrettable to the unacceptable the gravity of the misconduct must be of an order which would sustain criminal liability.

The courts tend to exercise a large element of discretion and a great deal is left to the wisdom of the courts, who have tended to give the Press more leeway under the Act than we think is appropriate. The Home Secretary at the time the Harassment Bill was going through Parliament said that, the activities of journalists might fall within the scope of the Bill. This Union would argue that Media surveillance should be deemed to be harassment under the Harassment Act, but to date, in this Union’s experience, the level of surveillance and intrusiveness by the Press has had to be really severe before the courts have entertained harassment claims.

We should remember that the Act was introduced to stop stalking as well as general harassment, but it has been inadequately applied and used against the Press, and probably stalkers. The Government has updated the Harassment Act by passing The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 to insert new sections into the Harassment Act, which specifically target criminal stalking.

The new s2A of the Harassment Act provides that a person is guilty of a criminal offence if they harass someone under the Act, and their course of conduct amounts to stalking. A person’s course of conduct amounts to stalking of another person if, it amounts to harassment of that person; and the acts involved are ones associated with stalking, and, the person whose course of conduct it is knows or ought to know that the course of conduct amounts to harassment of the other person. Examples of acts or omissions associated with stalking are:-following a person; contacting, or attempting to contact, a person by any means; watching or spying on a person.

The Act creates a criminal offence of stalking where the act involves fear of violence or serious alarm or distress. It gives the Police more powers of entry and search of premises in relation to stalking, presumably to investigate the activities and information held by the stalker.

Our Council of Executives have instructed me to advice that where a member believes they are being stalked or harassed by the Press then in the first instance they should report the matter to the Police. The Union will be able to assist with doing so and they should contact our Legal Officer.

Please bring this circular to the attention of our members and activists.

Yours sincerely

Bob Crow
General Secretary

No comments:

Post a Comment