You may be aware that the Domestic Violence Act 1995 provides a means to give protection to any person who has shared a domestic relationship with another person, and who has then been subjected to violence by that other person. But are you aware that there is also an Act that protects those being victimised by someone other than a person with whom they have shared a domestic relationship?
New Zealand’s Harassment Act 1997 (“the Act”), which deals with criminal harassment and civil harassment.
What is “harassment”?
“Harassment” is defined as engaging in a pattern of behaviour that is directed against a particular person and includes doing any specified act against that person on at least two separate occasions within a period of 12 months.
What are “specified acts”?
Specified acts include:
- Watching, loitering near, or preventing or hindering access to or from, that person’s place of residence, business, employment, or any other place that the person frequents for any purpose.
- Following, stopping, or accosting that person.
- Entering, or interfering with, property in that person’s possession.
- Making contact with that person whether by telephone, correspondence, or in any other way.
- Giving offensive material to that person or leaving it where it will be found by, given to, or brought to the attention of, that person.
- Acting in any other way that causes that person to fear for his or her safety and that would cause a reasonable person in the particular circumstances to fear for his or her safety.
What is Criminal Harassment?
Harassment is considered to be criminal if the harasser intends their behaviour to cause the victim to fear for his or her safety or the safety of a family member.
Criminal harassment is an offence and should be reported to the Police. A person who commits criminal harassment is liable, on conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.
What is Civil Harassment?
Civil harassment is generally behaviour that falls outside the category of criminal harassment.
What can I do if I am the victim of civil harassment?
If you have been the victim of civil harassment, you can apply to the District Court for a restraining order. Once an application has been received by the Court, the Registrar will arrange to have it served on the person who has been harassing you. The Registrar will also fix a date and time for a hearing of the application as soon as practicable.
When the harasser has been served with the application, he or she may choose to respond by filing a notice of defence and attending the hearing.
At the hearing, a District Court Judge will decide whether a restraining order should be made.
In deciding whether or not to make an order, the Judge will consider whether:
- The applicant has been “harassed? as defined in the Act;
- The harassment has caused distress, or threatened to cause distress;
- The harassment would cause distress, or threaten to cause distress, to a reasonable person;
- The degree of distress justifies the making of an order;
- An order is necessary to protect the applicant.
What happens if an order is made?
If the applicant is successful in obtaining an order, the harasser must not do, or threaten to do, any specified act to the applicant. A breach of the restraining order is a criminal offence.
Unless the order is discharged, it will remain in force for one year, or for any other period specified by the Court.
The information contained in this outline is of a general nature, should only be used as a guide and does not amount to legal advice. It should not be used or relied upon as a substitute for detailed advice or as a basis for formulating decisions. Special considerations apply to individual fact situations.