News and Insights
28 September 2016
The most common type of harassment cases brought before the Jersey Courts involve domestic abuse. This tends to be either between a couple in an existing relationship, or when a relationship has broken down, but one party is struggling to let the other person move on. It is worth noting that “domestic abuse” may be either physical or emotional.
There are a number of options open to someone who is being harassed in order to put a stop to it. These are explained below. The most suitable method will depend on individual circumstances.
The Harassment Law
Under the Crime (Disorderly Conduct and Harassment) (Jersey) Law 2008, a crime is committed if a person harasses someone by causing them alarm or distress, on more than one occasion. The police are duty-bound to investigate any instance of such harassment reported to them by a victim.
In practice, the police usually take a pragmatic approach to instances of harassment by issuing an initial warning to the perpetrator, that if they continue to harass, they will be guilty of an offence under the law and duly prosecuted for it. Such a warning is usually enough to stop the problem. If, however, the harassment continues and there is evidence to justify it, the police will prosecute the offender.
Any prosecution of the offender in the Courts is undertaken by Her Majesty’s Attorney General, so it will not cost the victim any money to pursue. If found guilty of harassment, an offender may be sentenced to six months in prison, a fine and be subject to a restraining Order. This would prevent them from approaching or contacting the victim for the duration of the restraining Order, amongst other things.
Civil non-molestation injunction
There may be reasons why a harassment victim would prefer to pursue a civil (non-criminal), rather than a criminal remedy.
For instance, if the perpetrator of the harassment is the father of their child, a criminal conviction would negatively affect their employment prospects, which would reduce their ability to provide child maintenance.
Any victim of harassment may instruct an Advocate to apply to the Court for a non-molestation injunction. This approach incurs the expense of gaining an injunction against the person who is harassing them, unlike under the Harassment Law brought by the Police. Legal aid though may be available if the victim meets the criteria.
In order to gain an injunction to prevent the person harassing them, the victim must prove to the Court there has been harassment, that the victim needs protection, and that the Court needs to issue the injunction to stop future harassment.
Someone subject to such a non-molestation injunction is not guilty of a criminal offence. However, if they breach the Court’s non-molestation injunction, they would be guilty of contempt of Court. This is a quasi-criminal offence, for which the offender may be sent to jail.
It is up to the victim of harassment to take the person harassing them to Court. If the non-molestation injunction is breached, it can be time consuming and expensive as the victim must prove that the offender has broken the Court’s injunction. However, if the evidence is strong enough, the perpetrator often admits his breaches without the need for a trial.
Civil ouster injunction
If a victim is living with someone who is harassing them, they can ask the Court to remove the harasser from the property.
Such an ‘ouster injunction’, as for a non-molestation injunction, must be brought by the victim rather than the police. However they may instruct an Advocate to act for them. Again, they may be able to pay reduced legal fees if they qualify for legal aid.
The Court conducts a balancing exercise on the specific facts of each ouster application. They will weigh up the interests of both parties to reach a fair outcome. However, if the victim of harassment can prove that they are the primary carer of children and they are suffering mental anguish as a result of the harassment (which is likely to have a detrimental effect on the children), then the Court will be more likely than not to grant an ouster-injunction.
In certain circumstances it is possible to obtain emergency injunctions within an hour or so of instructing an Advocate, which avoids putting the harasser on notice of your application.
What can Viberts do to help?
Viberts are used to dealing with victims of harassment. We understand that victims find it very difficult to come forward for help. You shouldn’t worry about the process, as we are used to supporting clients every step of the way. If you believe you are a victim of harassment, past or present, Viberts family law team can help you decide which approach is best to achieve the right result for you. Please contact us for a confidential discussion.