Bullying and the law

In 2013 there was no specific law on dealing with bullying in the UK. There are several laws that are applicable in cases of bullying such as the Harrassment Act and the various Communications Acts. In addition there are various rights and responsibilities afforded to us in law.

Education and Inspections Act 2006

In this Act there are several statutory obligations for schools with regard to behaviour which establish clear responsibilities in responding to bullying. In particular section 89 of the 2006 Education and Inspections Act states that every school must have measures to encourage good behaviour and prevent all forms of bullying amongst pupils. These measures should be part of the school’s behaviour and anti-bullying policy which must be communicated to all pupils, school staff and parents. This Act gives Head Teachers the ability to discipline pupils for poor behaviour that occurs even when the pupil is not on school premises or under the lawful control of school staff. For more information on this please see the Department for Education ‘Preventing and tackling bullying – advice for headteachers staff and school governing bodies – 2012)

Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 replaces previous anti-discrimination laws. A key provision in this Act is a new Public Sector Equality Duty, which came into force on 5 April 2011. It replaces the three previous public sector equality duties for race, disability and gender, and covers age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.

There are 3 aims of requiring public bodies to:

  • Eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct prohibited by the Act
  • Advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not
  • Foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not

Schools and all public sector organisations are required to comply with the Equality Duty. The Act also makes it unlawful for the responsible body of a school to discriminate against, harass or victimise a pupil or potential pupil in relation to admissions, the way it provides education for pupils, provision of pupil access to any benefit, facility or service, or by excluding a pupil or subjecting them to any other detriment. In England and Wales the Act applies to all maintained and independent schools, including Academies and Free Schools, and maintained and non-maintained special schools. For more information see the Home Office Website

Human Rights Act (1998)

Article 3 of this Act states that no one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

In October 2000 the Human Rights Act 1998 became law in the UK. This means that all schools could have charges brought against them under the Human Rights Act if they allow the rights of children and young people that they work with to be breached through failing to take bullying seriously. More information can be found on the Direct Gov Site. You can also find more about the rights of the child at the Unicef

Safeguarding children and young people

Under the Children Act 1989 a bullying incident should be addressed as a child protection concern when there is ‘reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm’. Where this is the case, the school or organisation staff should report their concerns to their Local Authority. Even where safeguarding is not considered to be an issue, schools and organisations may need to draw on a range of external services to support the pupil who is experiencing bullying, or to tackle any underlying issue which has contributed to a child engaging in bullying.

Offences Against The Person Act 1861

This Act covers Common assault, actual bodily harm, grievous bodily harm without intent and grievess bodily harm with intent. An assault is any intentional or reckless act which causes a person to apprehend immediate unlawful force or personal violence.

Criminal Law

Bullying is not currently (2013) a criminal offence but some behaviours associayed with bullying such as harrassment are. If in doubt seek help from the authorities.

The Protection From Harassment Act 1977

In 1977 legislation was introduced to deal with stalkers and also provide a more effective protection for abuysed women. The legislation is perfect for cases of bullying.

Bullying outside school premises

Headteachers have statutory power to discipline pupils for poor behaviour outside of the school premises. Section 89 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 gives Headteachers the power to regulate pupils’ conduct when they are not on school premises and are not under the lawful control or charge of a member of school staff (NOTE: this legislation does not apply to independent schools).

Want to know more? Actionwork runs workshops and other training programmes specifically looking at how the law can help you deal with bullying.

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