Main offences under harassment law
Sending a threatening or malicious message using a public electronic communications network, including sending such a message by email, can comprise an offence under the Communications Act 2003. Additionally, the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 can apply to threatening messages sent by email or by other forms of communication. Both criminal penalties and civil remedies are given. Under s1 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 a person must not pursue a course of conductwhich amounts to harassment of another and which he knows or ought to know amounts to harassment of the other. Following an amendment to this Act by s125 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, a new s1A has been inserted, which states that a person must not pursue a course of conduct:
which involves harassment of two or more persons, and
which he knows or ought to know involves harassment of those persons, and
by which he intends to persuade any person (whether or not one of those mentioned above) –
not to do something that he is entitled or required to do, or
to do something that he is not under any obligation to do.
Course of conduct
Under s3 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, as amended by s125 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, a course of conduct must involve, in the case of conduct in relation to a single person, conduct on at least two occasions in relation to that person, 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.
When applied to email we can note the following: for s1 at least two emails must be sent to the same person, where for s1A sending the same email to two persons counts as a course of conduct. However, the conduct does not need to be the same on both occasions. So, sending somebody a threatening email and later sending them a threatening text message would satisfy the requirements of s1. Under s7, conduct includes speech.
For more information on:
- Other elements of harassment and examples of the offence being committed by email
- Aggravated harassment
- Civil remedies