What are harassment warnings?
It is a criminal offence to pursue a course of conduct which amounts to harassment of another person. Usually there must be two separate incidents of harassment which amount to harassment of another person.
The police have the power to issue a ‘harassment warning’. A harassment warning is a formal written notice given to a person who has been accused of causing distress or alarm to another person. The warning is designed to make it clear to the individual that their act has caused harassment to another person. The harassment warning is also designed to deter the individual from carrying out a further act. If a further act of harassment to another person is alleged, the police can charge and arrest for the offence of harassment, this information is provided in the harassment warning.
Although harassment warnings are not convictions or cautions, they do appear on an Enhanced Criminal Records Bureau Check (ECRB). Which means if you are applying for a visa or working in a high security environment then this may pose difficulties for you. Harassment warnings can remain on police files for 7 years, often longer if they go unchallenged.
Example of harassment warning letter
The House of Commons produced a briefing paper on harassment warnings in October 2016.
Guidance on Harassment Warnings.
Whenever a harassment warning is issued an entry is made on the Police National Database (PND) and a corresponding warning flag is placed against the recipient’s name and address on the Police National Computer (PNC). The PND entry contains a full list of the allegations as they appear on the warning. No rebuttal, explanation or denial of the allegations are entered even if they are given. However, if the individual is disputing the matter, for example, saying they have not contacted the victim, this should be made known to the police. There is a possibility that the police officer will further investigate the matter and decide not to issue the official warning.
Whilst there is no basis in statute for Harassment Warnings, there is national guidance which should be followed (unless there is good reason not to). The national guidance states that Harassment Warnings are unlikely to be appropriate in certain circumstances, such as where a dispute is between neighbours. Harassment Warnings are also not appropriate where the person complained about denies the behaviour and there are no reasonable grounds to support the allegation, or where the alleged conduct even if repeated could not amount to harassment under the Protection from Harassment Act.
When making a decision on issuing a Harassment Warning, the police must follow any applicable guidance (unless there is good reason not to). The reasons given must be rational and must comply with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and sometimes Article 10.
What to do if you are given a Harassment Warning
If you are given a Harassment Warning which you believe was improperly issued to you, you should take immediate legal advice. It is important that legal challenges are started as soon as possible and within three months of the Harassment Warning being issued.
The issuing of a notice does not give you a formal opportunity to make a record of your response. Regardless of how upset you may feel on receipt of this notice, we would advise against saying anything to the police at this stage, without the benefit of legal advice. If a policeman is interviewing you and you wish to make criminal allegations of your own, then the officer is obliged to record it.
How to challenge a Harassment Warning
As a PIN has no legal force, there are no formal rights of appeal. Individuals who have received a PIN can make a complaint to the police force that issued the original PIN.
Another option might be to seek judicial review in the High Court. A person wishing to do this would need legal advice.
Similarly, if someone who has received a PIN wants to check the implications for any future action they might take, they should consider getting legal advice.