Not all reports to the police are truthful and merited. Some are either false entirely or wild exaggerations of the truth. Others may well be true but amount only to a trivial grievance that no reasonable person would think deserving of complaint. A victim of such reporting has hitherto had limited redress. The case of Waxman addresses this issue. The vexatious accuser may now have to answer for his allegations.
The prosecution of crime clearly serves a public interest. Genuine reporting must be encouraged and we should be alive to the fact that it is deterred whenever action is taken against a complainant. However, public interest considerations must be balanced against the right of the citizens of the UK to live without interference from unwarranted arrests.
There are offences in making false allegations but these do not provide an adequate remedy for the victim. The first problem is that they are police led. The Crown are slow to bring a prosecution against an accuser to avoid discouraging complaint from genuine victims. Also, a prosecution for perverting the course of justice does involve a high evidential test. It is one thing to show that an allegation is not credible and another to prove that it is false. The victim of a false allegation could bring a private prosecution but he must bear the evidential burden of the prosecution and the risk of costs.
Moreover, many allegations are not false but are only petty complaints. There is no offence that covers making a complaint that is truthful but not deserving of the attention of the authorities. The victim of such an allegation should consider suing for harassment. The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 sets down that conduct is harassment if ‘a reasonable person in possession of the same information would think that the course of conduct amounted to harassment of the other’. Making trivial or inaccurate allegations would clearly be considered harassment by the reasonable person. It should be noted that such allegations need not only be to the police. Complaints to the local council, an employer, a school or a private organisation like a sports club would be included. Such reports lead to investigations. Even if performed sensitively such contact is unwelcome to most people.
The case of Waxman may be used to support a claim. This case involved long standing harassment of Ms. Waxman by Mr. Fogel. Mr. Fogel was the subject of a restraining order. He brought a civil claim against Ms. Waxman and CPS refused to prosecute him on the basis that the order did not prohibit him from doing so. Ms. Waxman brought a judicial review of the decision of CPS. The Court decided that the commencement and service of a claim was conduct that was capable of causing anxiety, alarm and distress and so were capable of amounting to harassment. Mr. Fogel was using the courts to harass Ms. Waxman as many use the police or local council to harass their targets.
A civil action is preferable to a complaint to the police. Costs are an issue for the applicant but there is a lower standard of proof in the civil courts and both compensation and an injunction are available. Compensation is only worth pursuing if the harasser has the means to pay. However, an injunction is very useful to control further allegations. A court will be slow to grant an order that prevents a person from ever calling the police. Even a habitual liar may still be the victim of crime in the future. A compromise may be an order that the harasser is prohibited from making complaint save for a genuine emergency. This may not fully resolve the situation as the problem often lies in the inability of the person concerned to see the difference between genuine emergency and mild frustration. Nevertheless, the mere ruling would be useful. It would undermine any further allegations and a copy could be sent to the police and the local authority with a request that this be considered before any further investigations are commenced.
In addition to Waxman, the case of Ebuzoeme v CPS confirms that raising vexatious grievances to an employer can amount to misconduct. Mr. Ebuzoeme was a solicitor with the CPS. He made wide ranging allegations against four individuals of discrimination, victimisation, harassment and bullying. These were investigated and dismissed. Concern was raised that these allegations were vexatious and CPS took disciplinary action on the basis that the grievances raised were malicious. He was dismissed. He appealed to the employment tribunal who rejected his claim finding that the allegations made ‘raised a trust and integrity issue’ and that only dismissal was justified.
Action would not be appropriate in every case. Nevertheless the victim of a campaign of reporting is entitled to some protection.