A new law which provides for prison sentences for people who attempt to torment or exert psychological control over others has come into force and includes online harassment in certain cases.
The legislation is contained in the Serious Crime Act 2015, which creates an offence of ‘controlling or coercive behaviour in intimate or familial relationships’.
For an offence to be committed, the behaviour must be repeated or continuous and the victim and perpetrator must be ‘personally connected’.Furthermore, the behaviour must have a serious effect on the victim and be such that the perpetrator knows or ought to know that it will have such an effect.
Crucially, ‘the perpetrator and victim have to be personally connected when the incidents took place – meaning that at the time the incidents took place they were in an intimate personal relationship (whether they lived together or not) or they lived together and were family members, or they lived together and had previously been in an intimate personal relationship’.
Under guidance issued in December 2015, it is clear that the new law is intended to cover situations in which stalking and harassment occur within an ongoing intimate relationship. Previously, claims of this nature have not been successful where relationships have been continuing.