Wednesday Law report: Sentencing for harassment cases

16 June 1999: Regina v Liddle; Regina v Hayes Court of Appeal, Criminal Division (Lord Justice Evans, Mr Justice Curtis and Mr Justice Aikens) 24 May 1999

THE COURT of Appeal gave guidance as to the principles to be applied when sentencing a defendant who had committed an offence under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

The Court of Appeal allowed an appeal by Mark Liddle against consecutive sentences of nine months' imprisonment imposed following his plea of guilty before magistrates and committal to the Crown Court for sentence for two offences of breach of a restraining order contrary to section 5(5) and 5(6) of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, and reduced the sentences to consecutive terms of eight months' and four months' imprisonment.

The court also allowed an appeal by Andrew Michael Hayes against consecutive sentences of 12 months' imprisonment imposed following his guilty plea to two offences of breach of a restraining order contrary to section 5(5) and 5(6) of the 1997 Act, and reduced the sentences to consecutive terms of eight months' and three months' imprisonment.

Liddle's offences were committed against his ex-wife, while Hayes had harassed a young woman whom he had chanced to see.

Ian Graham (Registrar of Criminal Appeals) for Liddle; Arthur Gibson (Registrar of Criminal Appeals) for Hayes.

Mr Justice Curtis said that the present appeals were the first appeals under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

Section 1 of the Act provided: "(1) A person must not pursue a course of conduct - (a) which amounts to harassment of another . . ."

Section 2 provided: "(1) A person who pursues a course of conduct in breach of section 1 is guilty of an offence" and "(2) . . . is liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or a fine . . ., or both."

Section 4 provided: "(1) A person whose course of conduct causes another to fear, on at least two occasions, that violence will be used against him is guilty of an offence . . . (4) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable - (a) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, or a fine, or both, or (b) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or a fine . . . or both."

Section 5 provided: (1) A court sentencing . . . a person . . . convicted of an offence under section 2 or 4 may (as well as sentencing him or dealing with him in any other way) make an order under this section. (2) the order may . . . prohibit the defendant from doing anything described in the order . . . (5) If without reasonable excuse the defendant does anything which he is prohibited from doing by an order under this section, he is guilty of an offence. (6) [identical to s 4(4)]."

The following was a summary of the considerations for the court to bear in mind when sentencing for offences under the Act: whether the offence was an offence contrary to section 2 or section 4; whether there was a history of disobedience to court orders, whether criminal or civil; the seriousness of a defendant's conduct; whether there was persistent misconduct or a solitary incidence of misbehaviour; the effect upon the victim, whether physical or psychological, and whether the victim required protection, and the level of the risk posed by a defendant to the victim or to the victim's children or family; the mental health of the offender, and whether he was ready to undergo treatment or have help from the probation service; the offender's reaction to the court procedure, and whether he had pleaded guilty, expressed remorse, or recognised his need for help.

The range of sentences was as follows: for a first offence, a short sharp sentence might be appropriate, although much depended on factors such as repetition of a breach or breaches of a court order, and the particular facts of the case; for a second offence, sentences of the order of 15 months' imprisonment on a plea of guilty would be an appropriate starting point, and in the region of three years' imprisonment and upwards to the maximum of five years' imprisonment for a contested case.

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