Harassment warning can be handed to a suspect of harassment by the police or by a lawyer
When a victim of harassment reports you to the police as an harasser, the police may give you a formal harassment warning, which is intended to put you on notice that your alleged actions constitute harassment and that if you resist with the same or similar actions against a particular individual, you will most likely face criminal charges.
A harassment warning is a formal document which could be placed before a court of law. It is also known as a police information notice (PIN). It is often served in person by the police on a suspect of harassment. The harassment warning is intended to make you aware that the victim is considering your actions as harassment. In many cases, a victim of harassment might feel differently to you about your actions towards them. The harassment notice is therefore your formal notice of harassment, so if there is any doubt in your mind, whether your actions might constitute harassment, the harassment warning would remove this doubt.
Police might issue a harassment warning before they investigate the alleged harassment properly or at all. It means, that you might receive a harassment warning and feel that it is completely unjustified. However, harassment warnings are not proof that you have actually harassed anyone and you do not have to tell anyone that you received a harassment warning. It is solely a matter between you, the police and the complainant who asked the police to issue it. The alleged victim of the harassment should not make it public that you have received a harassment warning from the police. It could be defamatory for them to publish this fact and also might constitute a breach of your right to a private life and misuse of your private information.
Harassment warnings are issued by police following an allegation of harassment which, if true and repeated, would amount to an offence under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. Under the Act, it is a criminal offence to pursue a course of conduct (more than one instance) which amounts to harassment against another person, where the person pursuing the conduct knows, or ought to know, that their behaviour amounts to causing alarm or distress to someone which surmounts to harassment.
There needs to be at least two separate occasions where someone’s behaviour of causing alarm and distress, can be said to amount to harassment. Harassment is a criminal offence, wherever and however it is occurring, whether it is online or offline. Harassment is also a civil wrongdoing.
The harassment warning tells you about a complaint that an individual had made about you and about the law in relation to harassment. It also informs you that if there is a repeat of the harassing behaviour in the future, the police might take action against you. As such, it only serves as a form of notification which means the alleged harassment is not a proven criminal act and not even a proven criminal behaviour on your part. The police might ask you to sign the harassment warning but this does not mean that you accept or admit to have committed any form of harassment. If you have received a harassment warning which you do not deserve, you might feel humiliated and disgruntled. However, there is no legal mechanism for you to challenge the harassment warning. However, if the individual who had made the complaint about chose to make the fact that you had received a harassment warning public, you have a right to challenge them, through lawyers and through the courts. You should not write to them or contact them directly.
It is not possible to break a harassment warning because harassment warnings are different to court orders. If you receive a harassment warning and you choose to ignore it, the most that could happen to you is that you will be arrested by the police and interviewed under caution for a criminal offence under the Protection from Harassment Act. This could result in you being charged and taken to court. At the same time, an interview by the police under caution could show the police that the harassment warning was issued without justification. If you ignore a harassment warning that was issued to you by a solicitor, the solicitor might file for legal proceedings against you in a civil court without giving you further notice. This could result in an injunction being granted against you and in an order for you to pay damages to the victim. It might also mean that you will have to incur substantial legal costs in trying to defend such claim.
While the harassment warning is not a criminal record, it is recorded on the Police National Computer and can remain there indefinitely as it is not covered by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 as amended by the Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.
You can ask a solicitor to send a harassment warning on your behalf. The practical effect of a harassment warning which is sent by a solicitor is the same as a harassment warning which is issued by the police. It puts the accused harasser on notice of their conduct and it opens up the possibility of them being taken to court under the Protection from Harassment Act. Your solicitor can either start a private prosecution in a magistrates court against your alleged harasser, or they can bring a civil claim for an injunction and for payment of damages in a civil court, without further notice.