The PHA makes it a criminal offence to pursue a course of conduct which amounts to harassment of a person. A court may issue a restraining order against someone found guilty of such an offence.
This is a very important piece of legislation which can potentially provide protection in neighbourhood disputes, cases of racial harassment, bullying at work, confrontation with the media or stalking, as well as hate mail and persistent unwanted telephone calls. The PHA can also potentially apply in cases of domestic abuse.
There is no complete definition of harassment in the PHA and so it will be a matter for assessment based on the facts in each case, though the PHA does make it clear that harassment includes causing alarm or distress. It is important to note that there must be a ‘course of conduct’ in order to bring a claim. This means that there must be at least two incidents representing harassment – more than one telephone call – and the person who is carrying out the harassment must know or ought to know that it would amount to harassment. Although two incidents can be enough, the fewer the incidents, and the further apart in time they are, the less likely a court will be to find that there has been a ‘course of conduct’.