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New Protection from Harassment Act

 

Protection from Harassment Act (Act No. 17 of 2011) which came into operation on the 27th of April 2013 amongst other things it aims to provide protection to any person from being harmed through harassment by anybody.

In our legal system, in order to get a protection order against somebody you need to have been in a “domestic relationship” and lived with that person against whom you are applying for a protection order against. If you wanted to get an interdict against somebody whom you had not been in a domestic relationship with, but who had threatened you, you would have to go the High Court route to get the interdict against that party. Since that is a High Court matter, the attorney or advocate would normally charge between R15 000 to R30 000 in legal fees to obtain the interdict.

Lots of people could no doubt not afford to obtain a High Court interdict against somebody else until very recently when the new Protection from Harassment Act came out. In terms of this act, if you are threatened by somebody you can go to the Magistrates Court to apply for a protection order against them even if you had not been in a domestic relationship. The procedure is very similar to the procedure which is followed when applying for an interim protection order against your ex partner. If a temporary protection order is granted, a further date is given to the offender to appear in court to defend themself. 

Even if you do not know the identity of the harasser, you can still obtain a protection order. I got a call from a client who told me that a voicemail had been left on his phone which stated that my client had molested his own daughter (my client was going through a divorce). My client did not know the identity of the caller. Under the new Protection from Harassment Act, the Court could instruct the police to establish the identity of the offender or, if the harassment is electronic, the Court can force the service provider to reveal the name of the sender. I advised my client to approach the Magistrates Court to apply for a temporary protection order.

In a recent matter, a 43 year old medical rep from Pretoria had been divorced in 2003 after a 10 year marriage, but a year later she, her ex and their three children were living together again. Last December she discovered he was having an affair with their children’s teacher at an aftercare centre. The woman with whom her ex was having an affair threatened her via sms messages, saying she would tell the children’s school principal about their “domestic conditions”. She was awarded a protection order against the teacher after applying for one under the new Protection from Harassment Act. A further court date was given, when the offender will no doubt have a chance to defend the matter. 

In the matter with the lady from Pretoria, as well as the matter where my client received a harassing voicemail on his phone, in the past the parties would have had to take the expensive High Court route to obtain an interdict because they were not in a domestic relationship with the offender. Now they have the far cheaper option of going to the Magistrates Court and applying for a protection order under the new Protection from Harassment Act. 

The new act will no doubt place a huge amount of pressure on the Magistrates Courts.  The Magistrates Courts already have to deal with thousands of cases involving protection orders where parties are living together in a “domestic relationship”.  It would be interesting to see how the same Courts cope with the high volume of cases which may now be coming in.  The new Protection from Harassment Act in my opinion was necessary, as it creates an inexpensive recourse for people who are being harassed.


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