In legal terms the term harassment is used to cover the ‘causing alarm or distress’ offences under section 2 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (PHA), and ‘putting people in fear of violence’ offences under section 4 of the PHA. The term harassment is not specifically defined but by way of example can include unwanted communications on a person that could cause alarm, distress or fear in any reasonable person. The offence can also be committed by two or more people against an individual or harassment against more than one person.
The Court has a number of options available in sentencing cases of harassment, depending on the level of seriousness, which includes:
• Six months imprisonment and a fine (non-violent, low level)
• Five years imprisonment and a fine (threats of violence)
• Five years imprisonment (breaching civil injunction or restraining order)
In addition to harassment, two new offences of stalking were brought into force on 25th November 2012 under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. Although there is not a strict legal definition, stalking can be committed two ways; either involving fear of violence or serious alarm or distress. The circumstances which may lead to a prosecution being brought include following a person, watching or spying on them or forcing contact with the victim through any means, including social media. In recent times, cases of stalking have involved spying on people or obsessively messaging them on social media and while it is possible to block people on social media, stalkers have used multiple accounts and other methods to get around this.
The Court has a wide range of sentencing options that can be imposed against a defendant and the exact punishment will be determined by the individual circumstances of each case. Options include a fine, through to an immediate custodial sentence and may result in sending the matter to the Crown Court for a longer sentence than the maximum 6 months the Magistrates can impose.
If you have been contacted by police and are required to attend an interview under caution or attend Court then call our criminal defence specialist solicitor Lucy Linington on (023) 92448 115 for advice and representation.