Protection from Harassment Act 1997
The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (c 40) is a piece of United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

Law is a system of rules and guidelines which are enforced through social institutions to govern behavior, wherever possible. It shapes politics, economics and society in numerous ways and serves as a social mediator of relations between people. Contract law regulates everything from buying a bus...

 which, among other things, criminalises and creates a right to protection from stalking
Stalking is a term commonly used to refer to unwanted and obsessive attention by an individual or group to another person. Stalking behaviors are related to harassment and intimidation and may include following the victim in person and/or monitoring them via the internet...

 and persistent bullying in the workplace.


The Act defines harassment in section 1(1) as a "course of conduct" amounting to harassment and provides by section 7(3) that a course of conduct must involve conduct on at least two occasions. (Originally these occasions needed to involve the same person, but in 2005 the act was amended by the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act so that "pursuing a course of conduct" could mean approaching two people just once.) If these requirements are satisfied, the claimant may pursue a civil remedy for damages for anxiety: section 3(2). The use of civil law
Civil law (common law)
Civil law, as opposed to criminal law, is the branch of law dealing with disputes between individuals or organizations, in which compensation may be awarded to the victim...

 means that the standards of evidence are substantially lower than for criminal law
Criminal law
Criminal law, is the body of law that relates to crime. It might be defined as the body of rules that defines conduct that is not allowed because it is held to threaten, harm or endanger the safety and welfare of people, and that sets out the punishment to be imposed on people who do not obey...

, for example permitting hearsay
Hearsay is information gathered by one person from another person concerning some event, condition, or thing of which the first person had no direct experience. When submitted as evidence, such statements are called hearsay evidence. As a legal term, "hearsay" can also have the narrower meaning of...

. The requirement of a course of conduct shows that Parliament was conscious that it might not be in the public interest to allow the law to be set in motion for one boorish incident.

Under this act the definition of harassment is behavior which causes alarm or distress. The Act provides for a jail sentence of up to six months or a fine. There are also a variety of civil remedies that can be used including awarding of damages, and restraining orders backed by the power of arrest.

Commentators such as George Monbiot
George Monbiot
George Joshua Richard Monbiot is an English writer, known for his environmental and political activism. He lives in Machynlleth, Wales, writes a weekly column for The Guardian, and is the author of a number of books, including Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain and Bring on the...

 have voiced the concern that the amended Act effectively "allows the police to ban any campaign they please", and that is has been used to prosecute peaceful protestors.

Employers' liability

Employers have vicarious liability
Vicarious liability
Vicarious liability is a form of strict, secondary liability that arises under the common law doctrine of agency – respondeat superior – the responsibility of the superior for the acts of their subordinate, or, in a broader sense, the responsibility of any third party that had the "right, ability...

 for harassment by their employees under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 s 3 (see Majrowski v Guy's and St Thomas’s NHS Trust
Majrowski v Guy's and St Thomas’s NHS Trust
Majrowski v Guy's and St Thomas’s NHS Trust [2006] is a UK labour law case holding that an employer will be vicariously liable for the harassment of an employee by another.-Facts:...

). For employees this may provide an easier route to compensation than claims based on discrimination legislation or personal injury claims for stress at work, as the elements of harassment are likely to be easier to prove, the statutory defence is not available to the employer, and it may be easier to establish a claim for compensation. Also as the claim can be made in the County Court costs are recoverable and legal aid
Legal aid
Legal aid is the provision of assistance to people otherwise unable to afford legal representation and access to the court system. Legal aid is regarded as central in providing access to justice by ensuring equality before the law, the right to counsel and the right to a fair trial.A number of...

 is available.


In Scotland the Act works slightly differently:
  • A jail term of up to five years can be imposed in very serious cases.
  • Civil remedies include damages
    In law, damages is an award, typically of money, to be paid to a person as compensation for loss or injury; grammatically, it is a singular noun, not plural.- Compensatory damages :...

    , interdict
    The term Interdict may refer to:* Court order enforcing or prohibiting a certain action* Injunction, such as a restraining order...

     and non-harassment orders backed by powers of arrest.


The Act resulted from the efforts of Evonne Leonora Von Heussen. A stalking victim herself, she launched the National Association for Victims of Stalking and Harassment (NASH) in 1993, when her then teen-age daughter was stalked by a dangerous character who was known to carry a knife. After Von Heussen found that she could get no help from the police, lawyers, or her local Member of Parliament
Member of Parliament
A Member of Parliament is a representative of the voters to a :parliament. In many countries with bicameral parliaments, the term applies specifically to members of the lower house, as upper houses often have a different title, such as senate, and thus also have different titles for its members,...

 she began researching anti-stalking laws in other countries. She opened a help line on which she eventually took tens of thousands of calls. She pursued each call with each victim's MP, and attracted a large amount of media attention. After several years of effort she persuaded the Home Office
Home Office
The Home Office is the United Kingdom government department responsible for immigration control, security, and order. As such it is responsible for the police, UK Border Agency, and the Security Service . It is also in charge of government policy on security-related issues such as drugs,...

 under Prime Minister John Major
John Major
Sir John Major, is a British Conservative politician, who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Leader of the Conservative Party from 1990–1997...

 to take the issue on as a matter of government policy. She wrote the first draft of the act and worked closely with ministers and senior civil servants in the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor
Lord Chancellor
The Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain, or Lord Chancellor, is a senior and important functionary in the government of the United Kingdom. He is the second highest ranking of the Great Officers of State, ranking only after the Lord High Steward. The Lord Chancellor is appointed by the Sovereign...

's Department as the final version took shape. She advised ministers from her seat in the Under Gallery, on the floor of the House of Commons, during the Second Reading Debate. After Royal Assent she worked with Home Office and Lord Chancellor's Department in training judges, lawyers, other court personnel, police and voluntary organizations in the use of the act. She received the MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours
Queen's Birthday Honours
The Queen's Birthday Honours is a part of the British honours system, being a civic occasion on the celebration of the Queen's Official Birthday in which new members of most Commonwealth Realms honours are named. The awards are presented by the reigning monarch or head of state, currently Queen...

 List (1997) for her efforts. She also worked as a consultant on a number of court cases involving stalking and harassment.

See also

  • Harassment in the United Kingdom
  • United Kingdom employment equality law
  • Stalking Bill 1996
    Stalking Bill 1996
    There is no offence which is described in law as "stalking" in the UK. An attempt to create such an offence by the Stalking Bill 1996 failed. The bill was presented to Parliament by Janet Anderson under the Ten Minute Rule, with support from 64 other MPs...

External links

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