Volunteers are often the bedrock of charitable organisations, but they are not protected from sexual harassment within those organisations.
Since the introduction of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, the police have routinely dealt with low-level ‘harassment’ by issuing a Police Information (Harassment) Notice (PIN).
What is a Police Information Notice?
The police might issue a PIN as a caution where there are allegations of harassment. Their main purpose is to inform the alleged harasser that their behaviour amounts to harassment and is unacceptable. The Protection from Harassment Act does not see some behaviour, such as sending flowers or constant texting, as harassment, but the PIN closes these potential loopholes.
Some points to keep in mind are:
- The notices do not have any statutory basis;
- There is no formal police procedure or time limit within which they take effect;
- In themselves, they do not constitute any formal legal action;
- Signing one does not mean you or the alleged harasser accept that the alleged harassment has taken place;
- The notices are not formal police cautions, and there is no implication so far as police checks (DBS) are concerned;
- The PIN is not a court order or any form of conviction; and
- The police will not record an individual’s details on the Police National Computer just by the issue of a PIN notice, and it would not be considered in any way a ‘criminal record’.
The CPS has issued guidance indicating that these warnings can also be useful where one instance of harassment has occurred (this would not constitute a course of conduct under the Protection from Harassment Act) or where there is evidence of a course of conduct, and there is a victim unwilling to support a prosecution.
The information contained within the notices should be sufficient to advise the suspect of the following:
- The requirements and scope of the protection from harassment act;
- All allegations of harassment are taken seriously and investigated by the police;
- The specified action of the suspect did cause or could have caused harassment-related alarm or distress (or could if they repeat the action);
- Any further similar conduct could amount to a criminal offence under the Protection from Harassment Act;
- The police may use the notice in any future police investigations, prosecutions or civil proceedings taken by the victim;
- That acknowledging receipt of the notice does not mean the suspect is admitting any guilt;
- Retaining the information for more than a matter of months would need to be justified by evidence; and
- There is no right to appeal the PIN. If the suspect is unhappy with the issuing of the PIN, they need to complain to the issuing police force.
You can see a sample notice here.
Implications for family law
We are seeing an increasing number of PINs issued within family disputes. PINs are often an easy way for police to deal with disputes between separating parties, but they can be oblivious to the potential implications of issuing PINs to one party or another. Sadly PINs have also been used as weapons in court proceedings by one party seeking to blacken the name of their ex-partner – particularly damaging if proceedings involve children.
Although a PIN might seem like a solution to separation conflict, Senior Associate, Chris Lloyd-Smith, has seen the damage that repeated, unsubstantiated allegations to the police can have on court proceedings. The court will take a very dim view of parties making malicious or repeated allegations to the police to ‘further their case’, and such actions can often backfire.
What should you do if you receive a PIN?
Chris has been on both sides of cases involving children and PIN notices and advises individuals to think very carefully before accepting a PIN Notice and the potential consequences of not doing so.
If you are contacted by the police in person, by letter email or phone regarding an allegation of harassment, we recommend that you seek legal advice immediately and certainly before signing the notice. The issuing of a PIN can have potentially damaging implications if anyone makes harassment allegations against you in the future.
Where children are involved, it is important to look at any existing arrangements and whether they will be affected by the PIN. Do not get yourself into a position where you have to decide whether to breach a court order or comply with a PIN. If this is an issue, it is imperative that you explain the current arrangements for the children to the police, including any orders that are in place and the effect of a PIN upon your compliance. The police should not issue a PIN that compels a parent to breach a court order.
If you refuse to accept a PIN, you run the risk of the police escalating the matter, possibly through arrest. The implications of arrest may be far worse than accepting a PIN.
What if a PIN is accepted?
If a PIN notice is accepted it is important to remember:
- It does not necessarily mean you/the receiving party have done anything wrong;
- It does not substantiate any allegation;
- It does not mean the other party has not undertaken similar or otherwise unpalatable actions or behaviour; and
- Even if you do not accept that you have behaved in the way alleged, undertaking similar actions to that contained within the PIN notice will make you liable for arrest for breaching the PIN.
It is important if a party in litigation finds themselves accepting a PIN that they explain the circumstances of the PIN and highlight what is and is not accepted within its issue. This explanation can be done orally but, preferably, within a statement of evidence. It is also imperative to make clear to the court that the acceptance of a PIN is not an acceptance of any culpability of the alleged behaviour.
If you find yourself involved in issues such as those discussed above or you have any queries about anything raised in this briefing, please contact Chris Lloyd-Smith. You can also see our website for more information about the work we do.
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