The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 was passed to codify an area of law that had been developing piecemeal through case law.
Under the terms of the Act, harassment may now be both a criminal offence and a civil wrong.
Harassment is defined to mean a course of conduct which the perpetrator knows or ought to know would amount to harassment. A course of conduct is something which occurs on two or more occasions (subject to some limited exceptions) and harassment is behaviour which a reasonable person would conclude would “alarm or distress” the person on the receiving end.
The behaviour resulting in a finding of harassment is conduct which in itself may not be unlawful - for example a particular form of speaking or by the perpetrator’s presence in a particular place – for example following the victim. The definition is very flexible.
If the civil court concludes that harassment has occurred it may grant an injunction to restrict specified behaviour.
The remedy of an injunction for harassment is in addition to the older “common law remedies” – for example trespass to land or assault – which in themselves can found an application for an injunction but are not quite so flexible.
Once a court has granted an injunction to restrain, harassment breach of this can amount to contempt of court and is punishable. However, the burden of proof for establishing this falls upon the Claimant.
A claim for harassment can be a useful weapon of last resort (after alternative approaches for example mediation have been tried where appropriate) in trying to resolve otherwise intractable problems with for example neighbours.