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Third parties directly harmed by harassment can claim under PHA 1997

Under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (PHA 1997), it is a criminal offence and may form the basis of a civil claim for damages, for a person, on at least two occasions, to harass another person when he or she knows, or ought to know, that the course of conduct in question, as judged by a reasonable person, amounts to harassment. In (1) Levi (2) Levi v (1) Bates (2) Leeds Utd FC Ltd (3) Yorkshire Radio, the Court of Appeal (CA) had to decide: to what extent, if at all, may a person who has been harmed (or who anticipates harm) from harassment aimed at someone else (the target) avail him/herself of the protection afforded under the PHA 1997.

In this case, Mr Bates had control of Leeds United FC, which enabled him to write a regular column in the club's published match programme for each home game. Business transactions which occurred during the successive changes in the control of the club, between companies owned or controlled by Mr. Bates, Mr. Levi and by a Mr. Weston, Mrs. Levi's former husband, led Mr. Bates to harbour serious grievances against Mr. Levi and Mr. Weston. The case arose out of the manner in which Mr. Bates sought to vent his ire upon Mr. Levi by reason of those grievances, mainly by making remarks in editions of the club's match programme. Mr and Mrs Levi alleged several incidents of harassment under PHA 1997 (see Paragraph 7 of the judgment). The County Court upheld the relevant parts of Mr Levi's claim, but dismissed Mrs Levi’s claim because only one relevant “unpleasant and untrue” remark had been targeted at her, so there was no 'course of conduct' for the purpose of the PHA 1997.

The CA upheld Mrs Levi’s appeal holding that it is not a requirement of the statutory tort of harassment that the claimant be the target of the perpetrator's conduct. If the conduct is so serious that it can be classed as criminal, then the victim of damage incidental to the intended target ought to be able to sue for harm foreseeably caused by it. Therefore, the ability to bring a harassment claim has to extend beyond the targeted individual, but only to those who are foreseeably, and directly, harmed by the conduct concerned where they can properly be described as victims of it. Here, because of some of the remarks made and the personal details included, club supporters could have caused alarm to Mrs Levi by visiting or telephoning her home.

While not an employment case, employers should take note of the outcome. Sometimes employees call in the police where they are being harassed, particularly where the employer has failed to deal with the matter. Employers can be held vicariously liable under the PHA 1997 for acts of harassment committed by employees during the the course of employment, so anti-harassment policies need to make it clear that under the PHA 1997 it is not just the target of harassment who can bring a claim, but also any other person who has been foreseeably, and directly, harmed by the unwanted course of conduct. 

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Content Note

The aim is to provide summary information and comment on the subject areas covered. In particular, where employment tribunal and appellate court cases are reported, the information does not set out full details of all the facts, the legal arguments presented by the parties and the judgments made in every aspect of the case. Click on the links provided to access full details. If no link is provided contact us for further information. Employment law is subject to constant change either by statute or by interpretation by the courts. While every care has been taken in compiling this information, SM&B cannot be held responsible for any errors or omissions. Specialist legal advice must be taken on any legal issues that may arise before embarking upon any formal course of action.

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