Avoiding ongoing harassment
Under the Harassment Act 1997, the District Court is empowered to make restraining orders to protect victims of harassment who are not otherwise covered by domestic violence legislation.
These orders prohibit certain specified acts that fall into the general category of “stalker-type” behaviour and which might not necessarily be criminal acts in themselves. If granted, they are usually made for a limited period of time.
A recent decision of the High Court in is illustrative of the type of situation that can lead to such orders being granted. The case was the final chapter of a lengthy court saga between two former bridge partners, which ultimately ended with one partner obtaining a restraining order against the other for a period of three years.
The District Court had found there to be a number of specified acts over the space of several years which together formed a pattern of behaviour that amounted to harassment of Ms T, including a confrontation at a bridge club event, a visit to her home, unsolicited postcards and other items of correspondence being sent to her, and also a visit to her place of work that resulted in the Police being called. The Court found that this behaviour would clearly cause Ms T or any reasonable person in her position to fear for their safety and feel distress, and the Court was satisfied that an order was necessary to protect her from further harassment.
Mr B’s appeal to the High Court against the order was declined. The Court was satisfied that an order was necessary and dismissed Mr B’s submissions that he was in some way entitled to act as he had due to an alleged breach by Ms T of an earlier agreement to resume their bridge partnership after a one-year time-out period. The Court held that there could not have been any expectation that such an agreement could generate enforceable legal obligations, as it was essentially of a social or domestic nature.
As this case shows, the courts can and do impose restraining orders in situations where protection from ongoing harassment is required. These orders are backed by the force of the criminal law, as it is a criminal offence to contravene or otherwise fail to comply with a restraining order, with repeat breaches being punishable on conviction by a maximum of two years’ imprisonment.
The relevant legislation is not particularly user-friendly or easy to follow for a layperson. The process of applying for an order is fairly involved and requires a formal written application to the District Court together with affidavit evidence in support, followed by a hearing before a Judge. We therefore recommend that you seek our legal advice if you are contemplating applying for a restraining order (or defending an application for such an order).