Offence to Harass Witnesses

Offence to Harass Witnesses

The offence of Harass Witnesses is in section 52A of the Summary Offences Act 1966 in Victoria. It is a criminal offence that is committed by a person who harasses another person who is a witness in a case.

Have you been accused of Harassing a Witness? This is a serious allegation which you must make sure you get legal advice about as soon as possible.

harass witness
Police Interview
Did you know that police can arrest and interview you based solely on what someone says you did? If this happens, you must call us to speak with one of our experienced criminal defence lawyers.

It is common for these sorts of cases to be ‘word against word’. In this situation, it is more important than ever to seek criminal law advice from an expert criminal lawyer before attending a police interview. One of our criminal lawyers will provide you with clear advice about the best course in your particular circumstances – whether to answer questions, or to say ‘no comment’.

Pleading Not Guilty
One of our experienced criminal defence lawyers can prepare a defence strategy for you if intend on pleading not guilty to Harass a Witness.

Pleading not guilty to a criminal charge can be complex and overwhelming. An expert criminal lawyer will clearly explain the procedure involved in contesting a charge so that you understand each step in the Court process.

Your lawyer will also work with you to unravel the facts in your particular case, analyse the evidence police say supports the charge against you, and advocate in your defence at Court.

Pleading Guilty
If you are pleading guilty to the offence of Harass a Witnesses, one of our expert criminal lawyer will ensure that you matter is thoroughly prepared and that the circumstances of your situation are properly explained to the Magistrate. Appearing at Court can be daunting and confronting. A criminal lawyer will guide you through the process and ensure that with proper legal representation, you receive the best possible outcome in your situation.
The offence of harassing witnesses is the sort of charge regularly heard in the Magistrates’ Court.
 
What is the legal definition of Offence to Harass Witnesses?
An accused commits an offence if they harass a person because that person has taken part, is about to take part or is taking part in a criminal proceeding in any court as a witness or in any other capacity.

Examples of Offence to Harass Witnesses
  • Your brother has been charged with assaulting his girlfriend. You call the girlfriend and tell her that she shouldn’t be a witness for the prosecution. She tells you to leave her alone. You later turn up at her house and tell her you won’t leave until she agrees not to be a witness.
Legislation
The legislation for this offence can be found in section 52A of Summary Offences Act 1966.

Elements of the offence
To prove this charge, the prosecution prove the following beyond reasonable doubt:

  1. The accused harassed a person; and
  2. The accused did so because the person has taken part, was about to take part, or was taking part in a criminal proceeding in some capacity.
1) Did the accused harass a person?
‘Harass’ has its ordinary meaning. An accused will harass a witness if they subject them to aggressive pressure or intimidation. The court will look at all the circumstances to determine whether the accused was harassing the witness.

2) The accused did so because the person has taken part, was about to take part, or was taking part in a criminal proceeding in some capacity
This element is very broad. You must not harass a witness who took part in a proceeding five years ago, or witness who is going to take part in a proceeding in a year, or a witness currently taking part in a proceeding. It must be a criminal proceeding, not a civil proceeding.

The victim does not need to be a ‘witness’ – it is sufficient if the accused harasses someone who takes part in a criminal proceeding ‘in any other capacity’. This could mean someone who agrees to help the police with their investigation, or the lawyer for the prosecution, or an expert witness, or a court translator.
 
Defences to this charge can include a factual dispute, lack of intent, or the concept of beyond reasonable doubt.

You should ring us and discuss your case if you have been charged. Deciding on whether to plead guilty or not has consequences for you and should be made after proper discussion with a criminal lawyer.

Questions in cases like this
  • Did you harass the witness?
  • Was the witness taking part in a criminal proceeding?

The maximum penalty for Offence to Harass Witnesses (s52A of Summary Offences Act 1966) is 120 penalty units or imprisonment for 12 months. This is a substantial maximum penalty for a summary offence. It reflects the fact that the court takes these types of offences seriously.

Sentencing in the higher courts
In the higher courts of Victoria, there were only 14 charges of Offence to Harass Witnesses that were heard in a span of years from 1 July 2011 to 30 June 2016. Most of these charges resulted in the accused being sentenced to imprisonment (64.3%). The rest led to wholly suspended sentences (14.3%), Community Correction Order (14.3%), and fine (7.1%).1

Please note that suspended sentences were abolished in the higher courts earlier than that of the Magistrates’ Court, and therefore all offences committed on or after 1 September 2013 will not have this available as a sentencing option.2

Sentencing in the Magistrates’ Courts
In the Magistrates’ Courts, a total of 127 cases (148 charges) of Offence to Harass Witnesses were heard from 1 July 2013 to 30 June 2016. These cases led to a variety of sentences although the majority were sent to prison (39.4%). The rest were given the following sentences:

  • Community Correction Order – 23.6%
  • Fine – 18.9%
  • Wholly Suspended Sentence – 7.9%
  • Adjourned Undertaking/Discharge/Dismissal – 6.3%
  • Partially Suspended Sentence – 3.2%
  • Youth Justice Centre Order – 0.8%
Of the prison terms imposed, the longest was between 24 and 36 months although only 4.0% of those who were sentenced to prison were in this category. The majority were sentenced to a term between 6 and 12 months (26.30%) as well as less than 3 months (26.0%).

Of the fines imposed, the highest amount was between $5,000 and $20,000. This category was however the least imposed at only 3.6% of those who were sentenced to aggregate fines. Majority were sentenced to a fine that is between $500 and $1,000 (25.0% for aggregate) and $1,000 and $2,000 (7.1% for non-aggregate).3

Please note that suspended sentences were abolished in Victoria for all offences committed on or after 1 September 2014.4


[1] SACStat Higher Courts – Summary Offences Act 1966 (Vic) : s 52A – harass witness < https://www.sentencingcouncil.vic.gov.au/sacstat/higher_courts/HC_7405_52A.html >
[2] Suspended Sentence | The Sentencing Advisory Council < https://www.sentencingcouncil.vic.gov.au/about-sentencing/sentencing-options-for-adults/suspended-sentence >
[3] SAC Statistics – Summary Offences Act 1966 (Vic) : s 52A – harass witness < https://www.sentencingcouncil.vic.gov.au/sacstat/magistrates_court/7405_52A.html >
[4] Suspended Sentence | The Sentencing Advisory Council < https://www.sentencingcouncil.vic.gov.au/about-sentencing/sentencing-options-for-adults/suspended-sentence >