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School bullying – when to get the law involved

Luke Whitmore - Law on the Web

  1. 16 November 2015
  2. Family
  3. 0 comments
Child being bullied

Bullying in school can be a divisive issue. Some people (usually the parents of the bullies) insist that it’s a normal part of growing up and will work itself out, while others are distraught by the distress it can cause to their children. Whichever side you’re on, though, you might blanch at the idea of calling the police on errant schoolkids. So when is it appropriate to get the law involved?

The school’s responsibilities

It should go without saying that, except in the most extreme cases, issues with bullying should be reported to the school initially. All state schools are legally required to have anti-bullying measures in place as part as their behaviour policy for pupils, though the details of what these involve will vary from school to school.

Headmasters of state schools also have the legal power to tackle bullying which takes place elsewhere, so even if a child is being picked on outside of school premises – for example, when travelling to school – this can still be reported to the school.

Harassment or intimidation

It can be difficult to define when teasing or mockery escalates into harassment or intimidation, which is why there are so many initiatives aimed at preventing bullying in the first place.

However, a continuing campaign of insults, threats and abuse, whether carried out in person, over the phone or online, may constitute an offence if it makes the victim feel alarmed or distressed. To count as harassment there would need to be at least two separate incidents of this kind of behaviour from the same person.

If this is happening to your child, you should keep records of the messages (for example, chat logs if they were sent online, or the times that phone calls were made), and you can report this to the police if it does not stop.

Violence, assault or theft

If bullying escalates to the point of violent behaviour against the victim, or stealing their property, this should be reported to the police. In many cases the school will do this anyway if made aware of an incident, but anyone can report a crime like this, as such incidents go beyond “normal” bullying.

Discrimination and hate crimes

Schools are expected to act on any reports of discriminatory behaviour in school, which includes harassment on the grounds of any of the following:

  • gender or transgender identity
  • race or ethnicity
  • sexual orientation
  • disability
  • religion or belief

If your child is being bullied on these grounds, the school should do something about it. If they fail to act on the issue then you may ultimately be able to bring a discrimination claim against them if it becomes necessary.

You could also contact the police about such incidents, particularly if they have been the victim of a crime for discriminatory reasons – this would be classed as a hate crime.

How to contact the police

If you feel that your child is encountering bullying which is severe enough to contact the police, as outlined above, you should call the non-emergency number, 101, or visit your local police station.

You may also be able to report incidents through your local police force’s website – visit the website for further information.

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