Harassment laws in other countries

15.44 The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (UK) creates criminal offences when a person engages in a ‘course of conduct’ that amounts to harassment.[48] It is an offence for a person to pursue a course of conduct which amounts to harassment of another and which they know or ought to know amounts to harassment.[49] Harassment is defined as having occurred if ‘a reasonable person in possession of the same information would think the course of conduct amounted to harassment’.[50]

15.45 Importantly, the UK Act also provides for the award of civil remedies, including injunctions and damages to victims of harassment. Courts are empowered to issue a civil non-harassment order. Where a person is convicted of the offence of harassment, a prosecutor may apply to the court to make a non-harassment order against the offender requiring them to refrain from ‘such conduct in relation to the victim as specified in the order for such periods may be specified’.[51]

15.46 New Zealand’s Harassment Act 1997 empowers a court to issue civil harassment restraining orders and provides for a criminal offence of harassment where a person intends to cause fear to another person.[52] A person who is prosecuted for harassment can face up to two years imprisonment.[53] Plaintiffs can also apply to a court for a civil restraining order to prevent conduct amounting to harassment, breach of which will lead to penalties.[54] Where the Act does not provide for compensation for victims, the common law in New Zealand has developed a tort of intrusion upon seclusion, which has been used to provide compensation for victims of harassment.[55]

15.47 A range of behaviours amounting to harassment have been successfully targeted through the UK and NZ harassment acts.[56] These include conduct by individuals such as ‘trolling’ on social media, posting of private photographs and the use of fake online profiles to harass individuals.

15.48 At the time of writing this Report, New Zealand’s government was also considering legislation to tackle ‘harmful digital communications’ by way of the Harmful Digital Communications Bill 2013. If enacted, the legislation would prohibit an individual from sending a message to another person—for example by text, online publication or email—where the conduct of that message is grossly indecent, obscene, menacing or knowingly false, and where the sender intends the message to cause emotional distress to the recipient.[57] This offence would be punishable by up to three months imprisonment or a NZ$2,000 fine.

15.49 Singapore’s Protection from Harassment Act 2014 criminalises stalking and other forms of anti-social behaviour. The Act provides for a civil action of harassment whereby plaintiffs can receive an award of damages. Courts are also empowered under the Act to issue civil protection orders against offenders and have the power to remove offending material from a platform such as the internet.[58]

15.50 Other jurisdictions have enacted legislation to specifically target cyber-harms and so-called ‘revenge pornography’.[59] Revenge pornography is understood as the collection and distribution of sexually graphic images of an individual without their consent, with the deliberate intention of embarrassing, demeaning and distressing that individual. These images are often taken consensually during an intimate relationship.

15.51 For example, Nova Scotia’s Cyber-Safety Act 2013 creates a tort of cyber-bullying so that ‘a person who subjects another person to cyber-bullying commits a tort against that person’.[60] Cyber-bullying is defined as using

electronic communication through the use of technology, including … social networks, text messaging, instant messaging, websites and electronic mail … typically repeated or with continuing effect, that is intended or ought reasonably to be expected to cause fear, intimidation, humiliation, distress or other damage or harm to another person’s health, emotional well-being, self-esteem or reputation.[61]

15.52 In an action for cyber-bullying under this Act, a court may award damages including general, special, aggravated and punitive damages.[62] A court may also issue an injunction,[63] or make an order that the court considers ‘just and reasonable in the circumstances’.[64]

15.53 These laws provide a useful model for Australian legislatures when enacting a statutory tort of harassment, or other harassment legislation.