September 20, 2021 9:12 am Published by

Harassment occurs when somebody pursues a course of conduct on two or more occasions that amounts to harassment. Here at Criminal Defence Solicitors, we understand that this is not the most helpful of definitions in the entire world. But, Parliament has intentionally left the definition of what is or is not harassment wide open.

Typically, harassment will occur if an individual repeatedly contacts somebody knowing they do not want the individual to contact them, or if the individual follows that person and so on. There are defences that apply where the individual has a lawful or reasonable purpose for their actions.

The Offence

The Protection from Harassment Act1997 was brought into force on 16th June 1997. It was later amended by the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 to include two new specific offences of stalking.

According to section 2 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, the term harassment is used to cover “causing alarm or distress” offences and “putting people in fear of violence” offences under section 4 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (the Act). The term “harassment” also includes harassment by two or more defendants against an individual or harassment against more than one victim.

Section 7 of the Act provides that references to ‘harassment’ include alarming a person or causing the person distress. The section also states that a such conduct towards one person must involve at least two occasions, or in the case of conduct in relation to two or more persons, conduct on at least one occasion in relation to each of those persons.

During the case of Plavelil v Director of Public Prosecutions [2014] EWHC 736 (Admin) the definition of harassment was considered. In this case, it was held that the repeated making of false and malicious assertions against a doctor in connection with an investigation by the General Medical Council (GMC) could amount to a course of harassment.The Court of Appeal rejected the argument that malicious allegations could not be oppressive if they could easily be rebutted.

Are there different types of harassment?

There are many different forms of harassment.It has been found that closely related groups can also be subjected to “collective” harassment. The primary intention of this type of harassment is commonly directed at members of a group rather than an individual.  Such groups could include residents of a community, members of the same family, or people engaged in a specific trade or profession. Groups with a specific identity, such as ethnicity or sexuality, can also be victims of such harassment. For example, the racial harassment of the users of a specific ethnic community centre, harassment of a group of disabled people or gay clubs.

Harassment of an individual can also occur when a person is harassing others connected with the individual, knowing that this behaviour will affect their victim as well as the other people that the person appears to be targeting their actions towards. This is known as ‘stalking by proxy’. Family members, friends and employees of the victim may be subjected to this.

What about different forms of communication?

According to section 127 of the Communications Act 2003, it is an offence for a person to makeindecent, grossly offensive,or threatening calls to another. It is also an offence under that section to persistently use a telephone network for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, or needless anxiety, or to use it to send false messages for that purpose.

In some cases, for example where the malicious calls are an element of a wider charge such as where there have been threats to kill, the defendant could be charged with grievous bodily harm or actual bodily harm under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

It is also an offence under section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988to send an indecent, offensive, or threatening letter or other form of electronic communication to another person.


The offence of harassment is a ‘summary only’ offence which means it is dealt with by a magistrates’ court. Harassment carries a maximum sentence of:

  • 6 months’ imprisonment or 12 months where two or more offences are charged together and/or,
  • An unlimited fine.

A court dealing with a person convicted of any offencemay make a restraining order prohibiting the defendant from doing anything described in the order. This order can be made in addition to a custodial sentence or other sentence. The order can be especially useful in preventing continued stalking and harassment by defendants, including those who are given sentences of imprisonment.

If a restraining order is breached, a defendant is liable to be given a maximum sentence of five years’imprisonment.


There are a few common defences to the allegation of harassment. One common defence is to demonstrate to the judge that the alleged conduct did not cause the complainant to reasonably have any fear.                                                                                         Another common defence is for the defence solicitor to argue that the alleged behaviour was conducted with lawful authority. An example of a lawful behaviour might be that an individual made repeated attempts to enforce a court order or to serve court documents. If the complainant is alleging harassing emails, texts, or phone calls, then it is a defence if it can be shown the complainant was actively participating and engaging inan ongoing conversation. In such cases, it is important for a defendant ensure that such conversations are not deleted or edited in anyway on their part. If the court decides that they are needed, the defendant can be sure that their account is accurate.

How can we help?

If you have been charged with the offence of harassment, here at Criminal Defence Solicitors we are here to help. We can provide our expert defence team to represent you in court and help you avoid a potentially damaging criminal record.We will look at all the facts of the accusation and decide what defence against the offence of harassment is the best defence for your case. This will also include everything from the facts of the case all the way to whether your actions actually amounted to the criminal act of harassment or not.

Our team of litigators and advocates have many years of experience analysing complex factual scenarios and applying them to often novel areas of law, ensuring we get the best possible results for our clients. Do not hesitate to call us on 020 8158 9007or email us on info@criminaldefencesoliticors.co.uk to get expert legal advice for you and your case.