Cross jurisdiction harassment
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How to stop a UK harasser from harassing someone in another country
Online harassment often occurs across a number of jurisdictions. There are special legal issues for successfully handling online harassment, when the harasser lives in England and the victim of the harassment lives in another country.
Our client Gerald (not his real name) was a married man who most of the time lived in Hong Kong. Previously, he lived and studied in England and at the end of his studies, he went back to his home country. For a period of nearly 4 years, Gerald was subjected to a campaign of harassment and defamation by an individual from the UK, with whom he previously had a friendship.
The friendship ended once the individual developed feelings for our client, which our client rejected. The harasser developed an obsession with our client which triggered the campaign of harassment and defamation against him. The campaign of harassment included publications of defamatory allegations and private information on the internet such as branding our client as a cheat, manipulator, abuser, and liar.
Our client also received repeated unwanted phone calls, text and telephone messages to him, to his family and to his place of work. The harasser regularly posted defamatory allegations about our client on a public Facebook group and occasionally was sending defamatory emails to our client’s employers. The campaign of harassment was also a huge intrusion into our client’s private and family life and it caused enormous distress and harm to him and his family. Having read an article on our website about how to stop a stalker, Gerald contacted our firm in desperation for help.
Sometimes, in harassment cases, the harasser is from England, whilst the victim lives in another country. The question is whether the victim who lives in another country, can bring legal proceedings in England against their English harasser. In order to bring legal proceedings for harassment in England, the victim must have sufficient links to the UK.
Sufficient links to the UK means that the victim either lives in the UK or visits the country often. The reason for this, is that the damage to the victim, the distress and apprehension must happen within the English jurisdiction. What matters in harassment cases, in terms of jurisdiction, is not where the harasser is located, but rather the location of the victim at the time the harassment victim suffers from the harassment. In defamation cases, the location of the victim matters less because the question of the most appropriate jurisdiction to decide a defamation case can be determined by the convenience to the defendant.
In cases of breach of privacy, or the misuse of private information, the jurisdiction may be decided by where the breach occurred. If the breach occurred online, in most cases, the case for breach of privacy can be brought in England, because what is online is can be seen within the English jurisdiction.
It is therefore advisable, whenever possible, in cases of harassment, where the harasser lives in England and the victim lives overseas, to also bring legal action for breach of privacy and the misuse of private information, as well as legal action for defamation. This will ensure that the case will be heard in England, regardless of where the victim lives.
Often, the quickest and the most effective way to stop a campaign of harassment, where the victim lives abroad whilst the harasser lives in England, is to serve a letter of claim on the harasser. In the case of our client Gerald, the first action we took was to locate the harasser within the English jurisdiction.
Once the harasser was located, he received a harassment notice, which is a document akin to a cease and desist letter. Following personal service of the harassment notice, the harasser acknowledged her harassing conduct, she removed all the harassing content from the internet and provided a written apology to our client. She also provided a legally binding undertaking to never repeat her harassing conduct against our client.
We then placed the case under the seal of the court, which gave the legal settlement the stamp of approval of the court. Any breach of the harasser obligation under the settlement, will from now on be considered in similar terms of a breach of a court order.
What made this project particularly challenging was the need to overcome the jurisdiction issues. Where the client was in Hong Kong and the individual was in England, we had to deal with the difficult jurisdictional issues relating to all claims including that for Defamation and Harassment. As far as a claim in defamation is concerned, we were able to rely upon the basis of the double actionability rule.
The double actionability rule is a legal doctrine that says that you can bring a case in one jurisdiction, provided the case would likely be successful in the jurisdiction where the damage to the claimant occurred.
This was particularly challenging because there is a High Court authority to the effect that there cannot be a claim in harassment unless the victim (our client) is within the jurisdiction. However, this is a strict approach, and in reality, the Court in England and Wales is the only one that can make an effective order against the individual. From the outset, we also had to consider whether there was a potential to make an urgent injunction application to stop the individual from publishing further statements on the internet.
Given the high threshold for this type of application, and the absence of any clear threat of blackmail and/or to disclose private information we formed the view that the most effective way to address the individuals conduct is to issue and serve proceedings against her, seeking damages and an injunction in defamation and harassment.
Often, with cases such as this, time is of the essence, which means we must work on the matter urgently before the harasser is given time to escalate the harassment campaign. While our client was prepared to pursue his claim as far as trial (and scope to obtain judgment at an earlier stage) he was extremely satisfied that we were able to resolve this matter through negotiations with the individual.