The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 was originally enacted to deal with the problem of stalkers and more specifically acts of harassment against women. Since the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 was enacted there have been a number of important cases which extend the application of the Act beyond the mischief that it was initially intended to manage.
Such cases include the case of Majrowski v Guy’s & St Thomas’ NHS Trust  UKHL 34 which held that the Act was wide enough to cover harassment by an employer of its staff.
The recent case of Iqbal v Dean Manson Solicitors  EWCA CIV 123 demonstrates this wider application of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. The case followed Mr Iqbal’s summary dismissal from Dean Manson Solicitors where he had been working as a solicitor. Dean Manson Solicitors subsequently had a dispute over outstanding fees for a client for whom Mr Iqbal had formerly acted during his employment at Dean Manson. The client had disinstructed Dean Manson Solicitors and instructed alternative solicitors against whom Dean Manson alleged that there had been a guarantee in their favour in respect to outstanding fees. The alternative solicitors instructed Mr Iqbal (now working at his own new practice) to defend them in proceedings brought by Dean Manson Solicitors to enforce the alleged guarantee agreement between them in respect to outstanding fees.
It is probably unquestionable that the undercurrent not stated in the judgment or indeed in open court was that Dean Manson Solicitors harboured a certain amount of bad feeling that Mr Iqbal had been instructed in relation to fee collection on matters with which he was once associated. All that can be said is that it was clear from evidence presented in the form of three letters sent from Dean Manson Solicitors to Mr Iqbal that Dean Manson were less than happy about his instruction. The allegations contained within the letters, were of such substance so as to call into question the integrity of Mr Iqbal. They included accusations that Mr Iqbal was having personal relationships with their (former) clients.
Upon the basis of the correspondence Mr Iqbal made a claim under section 3 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. The Judge at first instance struck out the claim. Mr Iqbal sought and was granted permission to appeal upon the basis that the claim should not have been struck out before trial as the letters were capable of amounting to such an act targeted at an individual which is calculated to alarm or cause distress and which is oppressive and unreasonable.
The key point to note was the statement of Rix LJ who said “Arguably, the conduct alleged is of a gravity which could be characterised as criminal. A professional man’s integrity is the lifeblood of his vocation. If it is deliberately and wrongly attacked, whether out of personal self-interest or malice, a potential claim lies under the Act.” .
This is certainly a salutary note to remind ex-employer’s that taking out their distress and upset at the parting of relations is not advisable in professions where integrity is a prerequisite, and particularly where the employer and employee are solicitors.
Louise Delgado, Solicitor – 22 June 2012