Harassment: Solicitors beware!
In Iqbal v Dean Manson Solicitors, the Court of Appeal found that a series of three letters sent between solicitors could constitute a course of conduct amounting to harassment within the meaning of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.
Mr Iqbal was employed by Dean Manson Solicitors for a short period of time. After leaving the firm, Mr Iqbal was instructed to act on a matter and the firm sent a series of letters questioning whether Mr Iqbal was entitled to act, as he was potentially conflicted. The tone of the letters became more aggressive and inflammatory over time. Mr Iqbal lodged proceedings at the County Court. Dean Manson Solicitors defended the claim by arguing that Mr Iqbal's employment had ended under a cloud and that he was bigamously married. The Court of Appeal confirmed that each letter did not have to amount to an act of harassment, only that taken cumulatively, as a course of conduct, they had that effect. Furthermore, the claim could be pursued against a partnership and that a claimant could rely on matters raised in a defence either to evidence the course of conduct relied on or as an occasion helping to make up a course of conduct.
This is a development in Protection from Harassment Act claims. The Court suggested that it would be rare that "even if in the heat of battle they go too far" such complaints would fall foul of the Act. However, the case shows that innocuous exchanges can, in retrospect, be regarded as the start of harassment. Therefore care will need to be taken when responding to the letters of irksome employees and Claimants, so as not to create a course of conduct.
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