Harassment Warning Notices - time for a rethink
11 July 2017
It's time to bin the PIN
Otherwise known as "Police Information Notices" or "PIN's", Harassment Warning Notices have been used by police in the fight against harassment and stalking offences with increasing regularity in recent years. Rod Hayler considers their impact and inherent unfairness and wonders whether its time to think again.
PIN's are generally used to warn a suspect that their behaviour might amount to harassment of another. The law governing harassment and stalking offences requires the prosecution to prove that a suspect knew, or ought to have known, that their conduct amounted to the harassment of another person. As these laws have so often been used in relation to domestic situations, commonly after the breakdown of a relationship, the alleged perpetrator may have no idea that their attempts to contact their former partner are causing harassment. As such, once a complaint is received by the police, their first port of call is to issue the suspect with a PIN. That way, if their behaviour continues, it will be difficult for the suspect to argue that he or she could not have known that they have overstepped the mark.
This is fine in theory and it works in many cases. But life, especially where matters of the heart are concerned, is rarely so simple. The application of the PIN is arguably unfair and unjustified when the unwanted contact is, in fact, one half of an ongoing argument. Once the PIN has been issued, any contact by the suspect leaves him or her liable to arrest and prosecution, notwithstanding the fact that the other party has also been making contact.
A hidden impact?
The unfairness is compounded by the fact that a PIN can be issued without any reasonable belief on the part of the police. In other words, there need be no evidential basis for their use. A PIN cannot be refused. If the police want to issue you with one, you are stuck with it. Further, once issued, the suspect may find that the PIN appears as part of an enhanced disclosure by the Disclosure & Barring Service (DBS). In other words, the issuing of a PIN may have an impact on the suspect's ability to find a particular type of employment. After all, who wants an alleged harasser / stalker as an employee?
Because PIN's are not based in law, there is no right of appeal against their imposition. If you feel that you have been unfairly provided with a PIN, your only recourse is to make a complaint to the relevant Chief Constable. Needless to say, your chances of success in having the PIN removed from your record are slim.
For more detail on this particular unfairness, see here
Joint report into harassment and stalking laws
A recent report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate suggests that PINS are all too often imposed as an informal sanction instead of being applied after a thorough investigation. The Joint Inspectorate found that PINS were not the appropriate response in the majority of cases that they studied. The report also makes reference to a general lack of police accountability in relation to the use of PIN's and a reluctance on the part of the police to publish data about their use. The report recommends that PIN's should be withdrawn from use immediately.
The Joint Inspectorate make recommendations for alternatives to the use of PIN's which will have a basis in statute, will be more easily recorded and which will require the police to investigate an allegation thoroughly before taking action. This proposal, if accepted by lawmakers, may reduce the inherent unfairness of the current use of PIN's.