Harassment, alarm or distress


Harassment, alarm or distress

In English law, Harassment, Alarm or Distress forms part of the Public Order Act 1986 (amended by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994) under sections 4A and 5.

Provisions of the law

The Public Order Act 1986, Section 5 states:

:(1) A person is guilty of an offence if he:::(a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or::(b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,:within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.

This offence has the following statutory defences:::(1) The defendant had no reason to believe that there was any person within hearing or sight who was likely to be alarmed or distressed by his action.::(2) The defendant was in a dwelling and had no reason to believe that his behaviour would be seen or heard by any person outside any dwelling.::(3) The conduct was reasonable.

Section 4A of the act, which carries a higher maximum punishment, states::(1) A person is guilty of an offence if, with intent to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress, he:::(a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or::(b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting:thereby causing that or another person harassment, alarm or distress.:(2) An offence under this section may be committed in a public or a private place, except that no offence is committed where the words or behaviour are used, or the writing, sign or other visible representation is displayed, by a person inside a dwelling and the person who is harassed, alarmed or distressed is also inside that or another dwelling.:(3) It is a defence for the accused to prove:::(a) that he was inside a dwelling and had no reason to believe that the words or behaviour used, or the writing, sign or other visible representation displayed, would be heard or seen by a person outside that or any other dwelling, or::(b) that his conduct was reasonable.

Penalties under Section 4A can include up to six months imprisonment. These offences can be "racially or religiously aggravated" (Crime and Disorder Act 1998, Section 31, (1)(c)).

Ramifications and statistics

Ramifications of the law include:
*Statutory power of arrest (subject to the arrestability criteria introduced by Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005.)
*Triable summarily (can be brought before a magistrate)
*Fine

There were four to five thousand prosecutions for harassment, alarm or distress brought each year in England and Wales during the 2001-2003 period, with approximately three thousand cases resulting in guilty findings.

References

* "Blackstones Police Manual: Volume 4: General police duties", Fraser Simpson (2006). pp. 253. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-928522-8

External links

* [http://www.webtribe.net/~shg/Public%20Order%20Act%201986%20(1986%20c%2064)%20Sect%204A,%205,%206.htm Sections of Public Order Act of 1986 relating to harassment, alarm or distress]
* [http://www.lboro.ac.uk/admin/personnel/harassmentandb/what_does_the_law_say.htm Discussion of Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994 relating to harassment, alarm or distress]
* [http://www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?id=2005-07-05.5159.h Statistics on criminal proceedings for harassment, alarm or distress, 2001-2003]


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