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Sincere Belief Does Not Justify Harassment
When a person gets a ‘bee in their bonnet’ about something, all sense of moderation can go out of the window.
When this occurred recently, the result was a court appearance for a ‘whistleblower’.
The case was the result of a personal vendetta which had been waged for years by one man against another, whom he accused of fraud, tax evasion and embezzlement. Disclosures were made to HM Revenue and Customs and the Police. The accuser had also made ‘intrusions’ into the other man’s private life.
After investigation, there was found to be no basis for the claims, despite the fact that the man making them sincerely believed them to be true and the court accepted that the purpose of his campaign had been the prevention of crime.
The accused man went to court seeking an injunction to restrain the other man from continuing to make such allegations and to claim damages for harassment.
The court found that the behaviour did constitute harassment, but that the man who made the accusations was entitled to rely on the defence that he had acted to prevent a course of crime, in good faith and sincerely believing that his claims were true.
The Court of Appeal overturned the decision of the lower court and that decision was in turn appealed to the Supreme Court.
The Court concluded that the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 could not be construed to mean that the mere existence of a belief that a non-existent crime was taking place and needed to be prevented was sufficient to allow someone to engage in a persistent course of oppressive behaviour. The question of subjective belief is in point, but so is the concept of rationality. Rationality requires that a minimum objective standard be applied to the behaviour, not just that the behaviour is reasonable.
The alleged harasser must have applied rational thought to the circumstances before he or she can be regarded as having the purpose of preventing or detecting a crime, otherwise the actions taken are irrational. Behaviour which is irrational cannot be said to have the relevant purpose (the detection or prevention of crime) at all. The behaviour in this case was not rational and thus it could not constitute a defence against the claim that it was harassment.