Put the Act into action

Write to: The Editor, The Lawyer, 50 Poland Street, London W1V 4AX, Fax 0171-734 0534

The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 came partly into force, largely unnoticed, on 21 June.

The first injunctions under the Act, ordered by the High Court last week, were directed against animal rights activists. The Guardian commented with the heading "Anti-Stalking law misused". Certainly, the predictions made in your article "Stalking Act is Privacy Law" (12 May 1997) appear to have been well-founded.

The part of the Act which has not yet come into force concerns attaching powers of arrest to civil injunctions and making it a criminal offence to breach civil injunctions. If these provisions had been in force last week it is clear that the police would have had the power to arrest animal rights activists and to charge them with the criminal offence of breaching a civil injunction.

It is possible that the Lord Chancellor's department now has reservations about "criminalising" the offence of civil harassment. Certainly, the department is unable to say when, if at all, the remainder of the Act will come into force.

In the meantime, anarchy may well break out. It seems undesirable to be in limbo with an Act, clearly designed to police civil injunctions effectively, which it does not yet do.

This enables protesters or talkers to ignore civil injunctions knowing that they can neither be arrested by the police nor brought before the criminal courts for breaching such injunctions.

Perhaps there is a realisation that this Act may be far from perfect. The time-scale from publication of the Act through to its passage to committee stage in the House of Commons was 12 days. Hardly sufficient time to give this subject careful and just consideration.

AT Lawson-Cruttenden

Lawson-Cruttenden & Co.