Offensive telephone calls

Under the Communications Act 2003 , it is a criminal offence to leave messages which are grossly offensive, or to make indecent or obscene or menacing telephone calls or calls which cause annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety.

The criminal courts may treat a letter, or a silent or other phone call as an assault if it causes the victim to fear that physical violence may be used against him or her in the immediate future. The courts may also in certain circumstances treat such harassment as grievous bodily harm if psychological damage results , even if that damage was not caused by a fear of an imminent physical attack.

Telephone companies have the power, in certain circumstances, to trace the makers of nuisance or malicious calls and tell you who they are, provided you have a legitimate interest in knowing their identity . If the perpetrator is known and is persistent in making calls the courts are increasingly willing to grant injunctions to prevent this type of harassment.

It is also established that the making of numerous obscene telephone calls to a considerable number of people may be conduct capable of constituting a public nuisance.

It was previously hoped that the courts would be willing to develop the law of nuisance - the legal category into which many of these claims fall - so as to grant rights of protection to people in respect of property which they do not own. This would have enabled the law to move towards openly protecting domestic privacy. However, this advance was halted by a decision of the House of Lords.

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