Defamation law & the Prevention of Harassment Act 1997

Though harassment is more associated with stalking and sexually related behaviour and the Prevention of Harassment Act 1997 was written mainly to deal with these types of behaviour, it also enables the publication of information to be regarded as harassment.

Harassment is defined as alarming someone or causing them distress and that this alarm or distress should occur on at least two occasions. The forms of harassment include speech.

The punishments for harassment can be a maximum prison sentence of 6 months and a maximum fine of £5000, plus a restraining order. These are the punishments relating to a criminal prosecution of a person for harassment, but a civil prosecution may also be brought for a case of harassment.

Defences against harassment include: the actions were undertaken in order to prevent or detect other crimes; or that it was a reasonable course of action considering the particular circumstances.

Precedent was set in 2001 by the Court of Appeal in which it was ruled that published articles could constitute harassment; hence the similarity to defamation.

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