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Friday, 15 August 1997


The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (“the Act”) came in to force in July 1997. Twelve years on it is now being used by celebrities to curtail the activities of the press.

The purpose of this article is to:-

1) consider the Act;
2) analyse its use by celebrities; and
3) consider whether that use has, is, or is likely to amount to an abuse of the Act.

Injunctions under the Act have proved to be highly attractive civil remedies as they are enforceable in the criminal Courts. Consequently breach of any injunctions ordered under the Act “without reasonable excuse” is a criminal offence.

The tests contained in the Act are both subjective and objective. The subjective limb prohibits a person from acting in a manner “…which he knows or ought to know amounts to harassment…” The objective test provides that a course of conduct shall amount to harassment “…if a reasonable person in possession of the same information would think the course of conduct amounted to harassment of the [victim]”. Both these tests represent safeguards built in to the legislation to ensure that the meaning of “harassment” is clear to all.

Another in-built safeguard is that injunctions are equitable remedies. As such a Court will only grant an injunction where it is considered that it would be just and reasonable to make an Order.

Many people consider, perhaps erroneously, that the Act was principally brought in to curb stalking. Although stalking was undoubtedly in the minds of the legislators, a conscious decision was taken by John Major’s government to reject the Stalking Bill 1996 and to make a wider and further-reaching piece of legislation.

The surge of public interest in celebrities in recent years has fuelled an unprecedented amount of news, especially for “gossip” magazines. As a consequence of this many celebrities have been pursued by armies of journalists and paparazzi. Many celebrities have now started to consider injunctions under the Act as a way of containing the media, especially, given the potential sanctions and immediate power of arrest which come with the injunction package. Indeed it seems surprising, from a legal perspective, that it has taken so long for celebrities to exploit this area of the law.

The use of these injunctions was pioneered by celebrities such as Sienna Miller, Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen. Indeed these injunctions seem to be the latest “must-have” for any A-lister given the fact that Simon Cowell, Frank Lampard and John Terry are all rumoured to be considering obtaining them. But does this represent a step too far? Whilst respect must be had for the private lives of public figures and celebrities, it seems outrageous that Sienna Miller should shamelessly boast (whilst being interviewed by Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear) about exposing herself to paparazzi who were unable to respond due to a Court Order.

These injunctions have been used in a wide range of scenarios varying from the protection of the vulnerable from violent or sinister individuals to the protection of thousands of employees from being targeted by quasi-terrorist ‘direct action groups’. Yet none of the uses of the Act have been seen by victims as amusing as Sienna Miller seemed to find. Is it right that an Act intended for the protection of vulnerable individuals should be regarded in such a seemingly absurd manner? Is it right that celebrities who rely on the media for their fame and fortune should be able to invoke a power of arrest when the glare of the press doesn’t suit them? This trend, of apparent “designer injunctions”, undermines Parliament’s intentions. It is highly doubtful whether Parliament intended for the Act to be used in such a frivolous and unreasonable manner especially with the freedom of the media at stake. It is high time the media adopted a more robust approach to this cavalier and rather Draconian behaviour.

Tim Lawson-Cruttenden and Sehar Ali-Noor specialise in the law of harassment. Their website is at www.lawson-cruttenden.co.uk

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