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Communtity Law Manual | Harassment & bullying | What a restraining order does

Harassment in the community: Getting protection under the Harassment Act

What a restraining order does

Standard conditions of restraining orders

Harassment Act 1997, s 19

A restraining order makes it a criminal offence for the harasser to contact you in any way, or to do things like watching or hanging around outside your home, or following you or stopping you in the street, or doing anything else that gives you a reasonable fear for your safety.

The order also makes it illegal for the harasser to threaten to do any of those things, or to encourage one of their friends or any other person to do one of those things to you.

If the order has been made because of a continuing act of harassment, it’s a condition of the order that the harasser must take reasonable steps to stop this continuing. For example, if the harasser had posted offensive material about you online, they’ll have to take the offensive material down.

For a full list of the kinds of behaviour that are banned under a restraining order, see above, “What counts as ‘harassment’”.

Special conditions of restraining orders

Harassment Act 1997, s 20

When a judge makes a restraining order, they can also add any special conditions they think are reasonably necessary to protect you from more harassment – for example, requiring the harasser to stay away from a particular public place that you regularly visit.

The judge can specify how long the special condition will last for. If they don’t specify this, the condition lasts for as long as the restraining order lasts (see below, “How long does a restraining order last for?”).

Protection from others who’ve been encouraged to harass you

Harassment Act 1997, ss 10, 18

If the harasser has encouraged another person to harass you, a restraining order can also be made against that other person. This other person is called an “associated respondent”. The conditions of the restraining order apply to the associated respondent just as they do to the main harasser (“the respondent”).

When does the restraining order first take effect?

If the judge grants a restraining order, it takes effect straight away and from that point the harasser must obey the conditions of the order.

However, the harasser can’t be charged and prosecuted for any breach of the order until they’ve been “served” with the order (that is, given it personally). This will be done by either a court bailiff, a private process server or the police hand-delivering a copy of the order to them.

A copy of the order will also be given to you and to the local police station.

How long does a restraining order last for?

Harassment Act 1997, ss 21–24

A restraining order can be made for as long as the judge thinks is necessary to protect you. If the judge doesn’t specify a particular period, the order lasts for one year.

If the judge does specify a period for the order, this can later be extended if this is necessary to protect you from more harassment.

Either you or the harasser can apply for the restraining order to be ended (“discharged”) before it is due to end. The judge will need to be convinced that the order is no longer necessary.

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