In this case the Court of Appeal considered the application of the statutory defence to harassment at s.1(3)(a) of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (PHA). This provides that a course of conduct which would otherwise be harassment is defensible if it was pursued for the purposes of preventing or detecting crime.
For some 7 years between 2002 and 2009 Mr Willoughby had waged what was described “a lengthy and persistent campaign of correspondence and investigation” of and about Mr Hayes. The Official Receiver alone estimated that he had received 400 communications.
The County Court Judge concluded the course of conduct exceeded “even the widest limits of reasonableness and became unreasonable and excessive” but decided the defence had been established. The Court of Appeal disagreed.
At first instance, the Court was satisfied that because Mr Willoughby had a genuine belief or strong, sincere and reasonably based suspicion that Mr Hayes had been guilty that was sufficient to amount to a defence. Although there were other actions which could not be justified as conduct to prevent or detect crime, they did not constitute a separate course of conduct and therefore were protected by the campaign as a whole not being unlawful.
The Court of Appeal held that s.1(3)(a) is confined to a course of conduct the only purpose of which is preventing or detecting crime. There is no reason to protect a defendant whose course of conduct constitutes harassment because one of the purposes is the prevention or detection of crime unless his course of conduct was reasonable.
If a defendant can do no more than show that the course of conduct has been pursued for a number of purposes, only one of which is preventing or detecting crime, he will have failed to prove that the purpose was preventing or detecting crime and he will fall outside the scope of its protection and must then show that the course of conduct was reasonable under s.1(3)(c).