Wainwright & Cummins recently assisted a client who was accused by her ex-boyfriend of harassment, as well as two counts of minor criminal damage. She came to us in distress, and explained that during the course of their volatile two-year relationship tensions had risen, and things had been said and done on both sides which were regrettable. Our client was convinced that he had launched this allegation as revenge, embittered by how she had ended their relationship, in the hopes of damaging her reputation and career prospects. Prior to bringing forward these claims, her boyfriend had threatened to release intimate photographs of her online, unless she paid him £10,000.
We referred the judge to three recent Court of Appeal judgements, which also dealt with allegations of harassment during the course of a romantic relationship. Barrister Mike Reilly emphasized that the prosecution must demonstrate that the defendant’s behaviour went beyond causing mere harm or distress. The Harassment Act provides that the complainant must be subject to a course of conduct that causes them to experience actual fear of violence. Particularly in a consensual, romantic relationship, it may be difficult to delineate a course of conduct that constitutes harassment. In Majrowski the House of Lords held that the Act was of particular relevance to ‘stalkers, racial abusers, disruptive neighbours, bullying at work and so forth’.
Cohabiting couples may argue and upset one another, but it is farcical to suggest that such experiences are akin to harassment conducted by an individual who the victim clearly doesn’t want anywhere near them. Counsel relied on the case of Widdows, and successfully argued that the Act was not appropriate as a means of criminalising conduct, not charged as violence, during a long and predominantly affectionate relationship in which the parties persisted and wanted to continue. It would be ridiculous to suggest that every time a person is upset by their partner, the terms of the interaction changes, and they are now the victim of harassment. Counsel also put forward the submission found the 2016 case of R v ZN, in which the court acknowledged additional motivating factors to dismiss the accusation of harassment in a relationship, because ‘exceptional talent may go to waste’ as a result.
With regard to the counts of criminal damage, Mr Riley maintained that there was insufficient evidence that the damaged property actually belonged to the complainant, and that our client was the person who had in fact damaged it. The judge dismissed all charges, highlighting that this was a domestic case relating to a particularly volatile relationship, and therefore the allegations lacked both evidence and credibility. Furthermore, he agreed that the law of harassment has no place in domestic relationships; harassment by its very nature suggests something quite different. Had the relationship ended and the defendant continued to contact the complainant with unpleasant or upsetting messages, it would have been an entirely different matter.
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