law: The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 - Protection of Freedom Act 2012

This is the original Protection from Harassment Act 1997. It was amended in 2012 with the Protection by the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (PoF Act 2012). It came into force on 25th November 2012

The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 - Protection of Freedom Act 2012

18.1% of women aged 16-59 and 9.4% of men aged 16-59 say they have experienced stalking

Stalking is one of the most common types of intimate violence, with the 2010/11 BCS showing that 4.1% of women aged 16-59 and 3.2% of men aged 16-59 having experienced stalking in the last year.

The most common perpetrator in incidents of stalking was a partner or ex-partner (39%).

The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 was introduced, following consultation, because there was previously little legal protection for victims who were upset and frightened by a series

of disturbing incidents but which fell short of being illegal. The Act is intended to criminalise behaviour that stops short of actual violence and it enables intervention in cases where little could be done before.

The word ‘stalking’ was not specifically mentioned in the Act but it was designed to, and did, cover many forms of harassment including stalking and cyber stalking. In 2010, over 10,0004 prosecutions were brought under the Act, with almost 8,500 offenders found guilty in the same year.

The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 was amended in 2012 with the  Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (PoF Act 2012). The new offense prohibits a person from pursuing a course of conduct that amounts to stalking.

It provides more clarity on what is stalking and provides a list of types of behavioiurs such as:

  • following a person
  • contacting, or attempting to contact, a person by any means
  • publishing any statement or other material (i) relating or purporting to relate to a person, or (ii) purporting to originate from a person
  • monitoring the use by a person of the internet, email or any other form of electronic communication
  • loitering in any place (whether public or private)
  • interfering with any property in the possession of a person
  • watching or spying on a person 

It also helps to provide a more tangible approach to the higher offense which is to cause "fear of violence" clause which was subjective.

The POF Act 2012 says:

The phrase 'substantial adverse effect on the usual day-to-day activities' is not defined in section 4A, and thus its construction will be a matter for the courts via judicial interpretation. However, the Home Office considers that evidence of a substantial adverse effect when caused by the stalker may include:

  • the victim changing their routes to work, work patterns, or employment
  • the victim arranging for friends or family to pick up children from school  (to avoid contact with the stalker)
  • the victim putting in place additional security measures in their home
  • the victim moving home
  • physical or mental ill-health
  • the victim's deterioration in performance at work due to stress
  • the victim stopping /or changing the way they socialise

See Home Office bulletin on new stalking legislation added to Protection From Harassment Act

Laws that may apply to digital abuse cases

Law: Malicious Communications Act