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Law makes ‘sooting’ illegal

Thursday, July 31 2008

A GROUND-BREAKING new law that effectively bans the stalking and harassment of persons by such means as talking to them over the telephone, emailing them or even “sooting” them has now come into force.

The 2005 Offences Against the Person (Amendment) (Harassment) Act, which makes it a criminal offence to harass a person, was proclaimed by legal notice number 113 on June 30, this year by President George Maxwell Richards. The notice was published this week.

The Act amends the almost century-old Offences Against the Person Act by introducing a new offence of harassment at Section 30A alongside more traditional offences such as assault. Under Section 30A harassment of a person “includes alarming the person or causing the person distress” by engaging in any conduct that may have this effect.

Such conduct can include following, making visual recordings of, stopping or accosting the person. It also includes watching, loitering near to or blocking access to the person’s residence, workplace, or any other place frequented by the person as well as entering or interfering with property in the possession of the person. Interestingly, harassment also includes “making contact with the person, whether by gesture, directly, verbally, by telephone, computer, post or in any other way.” Penalties for various offences range from a fine of $2,000 and six months imprisonment, a $10,000 fine or $5,000 plus six months imprisonment upon summary conviction. A harassed person will also be able to have a protection order issued by the court. Attorney Rajiv Persad, a director of the Caribbean Centre for Human Rights, yesterday welcomed the proclamation of the legislation.

“Prior to the Act protection and compensation was only open to persons under the Domestic Violence Act. This is giving a mechanism for a large number of persons to get some protection. Much of this Act’s success will turn on how the courts interpret the sections that create the offence.”

In piloting the law in the Senate on February 1, 2005, Minister of National Security Martin Joseph noted that the offence of harassment had to be construed in a wide sense in order to capture the essence of the threat to potential victims.

But some, including then UNC Senator Robin Montano, found the new laws to be too intrusive and worried that it would stymie the rights of the press. Citing the example of a journalist conducting surveillance on a possibly corrupt government minister he warned, “I do not see this legislation as giving sufficient protection to the press.”

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