Stalking and Harassment
This question came into the office in 2008
One of our doctors is concerned that she is being stalked by a patient and is concerned for her own safety and for that of her young children. What is the best course of action?
The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 makes it a criminal offence to pursue a course of conduct, which amounts to harassment of a person. The Act makes it possible to obtain a civil court injunction to stop harassment occurring and to claim damages where appropriate. The courts could issue an arrest warrant for breach of that injunction
Harassment is not defined in the Act and so it will be a matter for assessment based on each case. However, there must be a course of conduct in order to bring a claim. This means that there must be at least two incidents representing harassment. The fewer the incidents and the longer the period of time between them the less likely they are to be considered as harassment. In addition the person who is carrying out the harassment must know, or ought to know, that it would amount to harassment.
However, people with psychiatric illnesses will not be excluded from the effect of the Act merely because they did not think that their behaviour would amount to harassment. The test is whether a reasonable person would think that the course of conduct amounted to harassment.
You could contact the police confirming that you consider that you are suffering from harassment under the terms of the Act and seek their assistance. Very often police involvement is enough to make the patient refrain from being a nuisance. If the police are called on a number of occasions they could then initiate criminal proceedings. Alternatively you could start civil proceedings. If a number of doctors have had a similar experience with the same patient this might help establish a course of conduct.
Harassment is a criminal offence that could lead to imprisonment for up to 6 months or a fine of up to £2000.