UK – Civil Law
In this section we set out a summary of the law against stalking. It is intended to give you some guidance on the subject but it is not intended to be a complete statement of the law and you should not rely on it. Before taking any action against stalking you should consult a solicitor who has expertise in this area.
What do I need to know about the Civil Court?
Civil Law deals with disputes between individuals or organisations. A key difference between Civil and Criminal Law is that the ‘burden of proof’ is lower in civil cases. A criminal case must be ‘proven beyond all reasonable doubt’. In a civil case it has only to be proven ‘on the balance of probabilities’.
The 1997 Protection from Harassment Act can be used in the civil court. It creates a ‘civil tort’ of harassment. The definition of harassment is the same as for the criminal offence. (ie, ‘alarming the person or causing the person distress’ on at least 2 occasions.)
A civil case can be brought in the High Court or, more usually, in the County Court. The procedure is the same as in other civil cases. The two sides of any civil case are the claimant and the defendant. The Claimant is the person or organisation that claims they have suffered injury or loss etc.
When seeking advice from a Solicitor ask first whether you are eligible to apply for Legal Aid. If granted you may be required to make a contribution. If not the Solicitor’s own costs and disbursements need to be outlined to you. Always ask as it can prove very expensive.
What can the Civil Court do?
The court can grant an injunction (i.e. an order requiring the defendant either to do or not to do particular acts) and/or damages. Section 3(2) of the 1997 Act says that damages may be awarded ‘for (among other things) any anxiety caused by the harassment and any financial loss resulting from the harassment’.
If a defendant breaches an injunction he can be prosecuted in a criminal court for that breach or he can be punished for contempt of court in the civil court, but not both. The criminal offence of breaching such an injunction is punishable in the Magistrates Court by a maximum of 6 months imprisonment or a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale (currently £5,000) or both, and in the Crown Court by a maximum of 5 years imprisonment or a fine or both. The maximum punishment which a civil court can impose for contempt of court is 2 years imprisonment.