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Harassment is More than Just Annoyance

Ease of digital communication has led to an increased threat of harassment. As one High Court case shows, however, the human right to freedom of expression is always at the forefront of judges’ minds when dealing with such complaints.

In the midst of a bitter family dispute, a businessman launched proceedings against his brother on the basis that he had sent him and others more than 70 emails that cast aspersions on his honesty and character. It was alleged that the emails amounted to a course of conduct that fitted the definition of harassment.

The brother admitted that some of the emails were somewhat over-zealous and that his behaviour had been less than exemplary. However, it had not been suggested that he did not hold a genuine belief that his allegations against the businessman were true. He argued that the proceedings, whilst dressed up as a harassment claim, were really about protecting the businessman’s reputation.

In refusing to grant the businessman a pre-trial injunction, the High Court found that he had not established that he was likely to succeed in proving his brother guilty of harassment. Although the emails were no doubt distressing and annoying, they had not crossed the line from being merely unattractive to being oppressive and unacceptable. The broad wording of the order sought would also represent a very serious interference with the brother’s freedom of expression.

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