There has been quite a lot of deserved focus lately on the use of social media in the hassling, bullying, harassing of others.
A campaign was launched in the last few weeks by the victims of stalking to have it made a specific offence. It is unlikely to succeed as it is thought to be too close to harassment which is already covered under the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997.
In addition, in December 2020 we had ‘Coco’s Law’ placed on the Statute Books. This is the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Act 2020 which amends the law relating to harassment and deals with the distribution and publication of intimate images.
This hassle can range from a so-called ‘pile-on’ on Twitter (and other social media platforms) to more sinister, threatening behaviour involving a mixture of online and offline abuse and threats. Occasionally it leads to violence and criminal prosecutions.
Vigorous, passionate debate is understandable, healthy and should be encouraged in a healthy democratic society that upholds the right to an individual’s right to free expression and free speech, as provided for in article 40.6
6 1° The State guarantees liberty for the exercise of the following rights, subject to public order and morality: –
i The right of the citizens to express freely their convictions and opinions.
This right, like all personal rights in Bunreacht na Eireann is not an absolute right but is qualified by the rider ‘subject to public order and morality..’
Harassment, as provided in the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 is set out at section 10 as follows:
10.— (1) Any person who, without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, by any means including by use of the telephone, harasses another by persistently following, watching, pestering, besetting or F2 [ communicating with or about him or her ], shall be guilty of an offence.
(2) For the purposes of this section a person harasses another where—
( a) he or she, by his or her acts intentionally or recklessly, seriously interferes with the other’s peace and privacy or causes alarm, distress or harm to the other, and
( b) his or her acts are such that a reasonable person would realise that the acts would seriously interfere with the other’s peace and privacy or cause alarm, distress or harm to the other.
(3) Where a person is guilty of an offence under subsection ( 1), the court may, in addition to or as an alternative to any other penalty, order that the person shall not, for such period as the court may specify, F2 [ communicate by any means with or about the other person ] or that the person shall not approach within such distance as the court shall specify of the place of residence or employment of the other person.
(4) A person who fails to comply with the terms of an order under subsection ( 3) shall be guilty of an offence.
(5) If on the evidence the court is not satisfied that the person should be convicted of an offence under subsection ( 1), the court may nevertheless make an order under subsection ( 3) upon an application to it in that behalf if, having regard to the evidence, the court is satisfied that it is in the interests of justice so to do.
F2 [ (6) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable—
( a ) on summary conviction to a class A fine or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or both, or
( b ) on conviction on indictment to a fine or a term of imprisonment not exceeding 10 years, or both. ]
This offence, as you will note, is broadly drafted in terms of what constitutes harassment.
And it can be prosecuted as a minor offence in the District Court or on indictment in the higher courts with imprisonment of up to 10 years.
There are remedies open to you, including going to the Gardai to make a formal criminal complaint, if you are the victim of this type of hassling/harassing behaviour.