Harassment: time between incidents to be deemed a course of conduct

19 June 2019

Not reviewed after the date of publication

Question:

In relation to harassment, how much time does there need to be between incidents in order for them to be deemed a course of conduct, rather than one single instance?

We are currently dealing with a situation where an incident occurred, following which the offender left the area, returning approximately 30 minutes later at which point the second incident occurred. As long as we can satisfy that the second incident was not a continuation of the first, would this constitute a course of conduct?

Answer:

Section 1 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 outlines the offence of harassment and states:

1(1) A person must not pursue a course of conduct -

(a) which amounts to harassment of another, and
(b) which he knows or ought to know amounts to harassment of the other.

Section 7 defines a course of conduct as conduct that takes place on at least two occasions. The length of time in between these periods however is not provided for within the Act. Essentially the amount of time could therefore be short or some time apart, however the latter will be less likely to result in a course of conduct if there are only two incidents which are a significant period of time apart.

Whether two of more incidents are regarded as a course of conduct is matter for the court to decide and each matter will be decided on a case by case basis. Please see our guidance document on PNLD which provides explanatory notes and case law on the Act, in particular the period between incidents.

In the case of Kelly v DPP (2002) three abusive phone calls were made by the offender within a 5 minute period. The victim then listened to the answer phone messages in quick succession the next day. The courts were satisfied that there were three separate incidents amounting to a course of conduct. There was not a requirement for the victim to become alarmed three separate times, it was sufficient that the whole course of conduct caused alarm/distress.

Given the information outlined above, conduct on at least two occasions within 30 minutes of each other would in our opinion amount to a course of conduct, however ultimately it will be a matter for the courts to decide. An offence of harassment would also be dependent on other conditions of the offence being met, such as whether the conduct amounted to harassment and whether the offender knew or was aware their conduct was harassment.

The CPS guidance on stalking and harassment below may also be of assistance:

https://www.cps.gov.uk/legal-guidance/stalking-and-harassment

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