The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 can used to deal with a wide variety of distressing behaviour. This Briefing Note looks in detail at how it works in England and Wales, and summarises the different provisions which apply in Scotland. It also looks at the equivalent legislation in Northern Ireland.Jump to full report >>
The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 was originally introduced to deal with the problem of stalking. However, it covers a much wider range of behaviour, including behaviour which alarms or distresses the victim.
The Act gives both criminal and civil remedies. There are two criminal offences:
Harassing a person includes alarming the person or causing the person distress.
A “course of conduct”, which can include speech, must normally involve conduct on at least two occasions. There are special provisions to cover harassment targeting two or more people to persuade (for example certain kinds of protest action against companies) and harassment of an individual carried out by two or more people.
In addition to the criminal offences, a civil court can impose civil injunctions in harassment cases as well as awarding damages to the victim for the harassment. Breach of such an injunction is a criminal offence.
In 2012 the Coalition Government added two specific criminal offences of stalking to the 1997 Act following widespread concern that the Act was not dealing adequately with this problem. Further information on this is available in a Library Briefing Paper on Stalking.
The Crown Prosecution Service has published legal guidance on Stalking and Harassment.
The College of Policing website has current guidance for the police on its Stalking and Harassment page and is working on new Authorised Professional Practice on harassment and stalking.
Scotland is covered by separate sections in the 1997 Act. Key differences are:
Northern Ireland has very similar provisions to those sections of the Act which extend to England and Wales. These are set out in the Protection from Harassment (Northern Ireland) Order 1997. Key differences are:
A separate Library standard note, SN/HA/3207, Legal help: where to go and how to pay includes information about sources of legal advice.
Commons Briefing papers SN06648
Author: Pat Strickland