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Online harassment legal advice

Internet harassment legal advice

Victims of online harassment, intimidation, and defamation often feel hopeless and powerless to act. In many instances they feel scared and paralysed.

If you have been a victim of an online reputation attack and have tried to report your attackers to the police, you were probably shocked and disappointed to learn that your local police force either was not interested, didn’t understand the problem, or is underfunded and unable to invest time and resources in investigating your case.

Even if your case was investigated, in most cases it would take a very long time for the criminal justice system to come up with any real solution to your problem.

Police forces across the UK are not equipped to deal with online harassment and online intimidation save for exceptional cases where they decide to invest the required resources in helping a particular individual. Very few senior police officers have any understanding of the psychology of the internet, how it works or the technologies and techniques online attackers and bullies use to intimidate their victims.

If your local police force agree to investigate your online harassment case, they will often warn you that the case will take a very long time to investigate. Furthermore, once investigated, a case would have to be made to the Crown Prosecution Service before it could proceed. Often, the investigating officer will find it challenging to obtain budgets and other resources to pursue a proper thorough investigation, which might involve obtaining information from organisations that reside outside the jurisdiction, for example in the USA. It would be many months before the courts would deal with the matter, and in the meantime the abusive internet posts are likely to remain in place.

In the case of Sean Duffy, it took 18 months to bring a conviction in a fairly straightforward matter of internet harassment and in the case of Paul Britton and the web design company Origin Design, a successful prosecution took place after almost 2 years, and even then only with the support of the victim's solicitors who handed most of the evidence to the police. 

To make matters worse for the online harassment victim, in cases of harassment on the internet, it is questionable whether a criminal court has the power to request that the offender removes the offending posts under a normal restraining order. This is because restraining orders may only require the offender to refrain from taking action as oppose to requiring him or her to take positive action, such as to remove internet pages.  Furthermore, if the offender is sent to prison, it is clear that any requirement of him or her to take positive action to remove an offending or harassing webpage is not going to be practical.

Often, to secure the removal of harassing webpages from the internet, we will need to apply for a civil injunction under the Protection from Harassment Act. We will then proceed to enforce the harassment injunction directly on the offender and if this is not practical, on the website operators, the hosts of the offending website and on the search engines such as Google and Bing. 

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