How to protect people in the public eye from harassment

26 March 2014

Harry Styles' recent obtaining of permanent harassment injunctions against four paparazzi photographers is a reminder to music stars and others in the public eye that legal steps can be taken to stop unwarranted attention and non-stop surveillance by unscrupulous press photographers and other members of the media.

The One Direction star was first successful in obtaining an interim injunction against certain paparazzi in December 2013, which prevented them from pursuing the singer by car or motorcycle, placing him under surveillance, loitering or waiting within 50 metres of his place of residence to monitor his movements or take photos of him in such circumstances. Interestingly, the injunctions were obtained against unnamed parties "Paparazzi AAA and others" meaning that they could then be served on anyone who was considered guilty of such behaviour. At the court hearing, the judge was informed that at least four paparazzi were in the process of being identified.

Last week the judge ordered that the injunctions should now be permanent. The four paparazzi have by now been identified "by virtue of their motor vehicles and other information". The case has been adjourned for a further five weeks whilst at least one other photographer is traced.

The permanent injunctions were obtained under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 which provides that harassment, as defined, can give rise not only to a civil claim, which can in turn result in a court order for a permanent injunction preventing continuing harassment and an award of monetary damages, but is also a criminal offence.

The Act defines "harassment" as a course of conduct that causes the subject “alarm or distress” which the harasser knows, or ought to know, amounts to harassment. Interestingly only two instances are required to meet the course of conduct threshold.

Harry Styles is reported as having resorted to use of the 1997 Act after failing to persuade the paparazzi to leave him alone. It was also open to him under the Act to go to the police to complain of criminal conduct and seek police assistance to prevent continuing harassment but it would seem that he was advised that the more effective course was to obtain interim and ultimately permanent court orders in the civil courts.

At the first hearing in December 2013, Harry Styles' barrister emphasised to the court that he was not seeking a "privacy injunction" nor was he trying to prevent fans approaching him in the street and taking photos. "He remains happy to do that, as he always has. Rather, it is the method or tactics which have been used by a certain type of photographer".

At the recent hearing, the barrister told the court that it was hoped that at the next hearing "it will be clear whether we can identify those remaining individuals and progress proceedings, or instead bring this successful claim to an end, having achieved an end to the crazy pursuit of the claimant when he is not on official duties".

Although Harry Styles is hot property these days, he is clearly not alone in suffering at the hands of overzealous photographers and reporters, desperate for their next celebrity story. It is more than likely therefore that we can expect to see more stars bringing proceedings under the 1997 Act in the future.

This article first appeared in Music Week. Reproduced with kind permission from the publisher.

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