Many types of behaviour that could be described as bullying are covered by legislation and can be prosecuted as criminal offences under a number of acts of Parliament, for example:
• Protection from Harassment Act 1997
• Malicious Communications Act 1988
• Communications Act 2003
• Public Order Act 1986
DfE guidance, updated on 18 July 2011 states that ‘if school staff feel that an offence may have been committed they should seek assistance from the police. For example, under the Malicious Communication Act 1988, it is an offence for a person to send an electronic communication to another person with the intent to cause distress or anxiety or to send an electronic communication which conveys a message which is indecent or grossly offensive, a threat, or information which is false and known or believed to be false by the sender.’
Bullying in itself is not a specific criminal offence in the UK, however the 2004 and 2006 Education Acts placed a requirement on schools to promote children’s well-being, including preventing bullying, as well as their academic achievement. The Children Act 2004 established duties to “co-operate to improve well-being” and “to safeguard and promote welfare” of children and young people. The definition of ‘well-being’ as outlined in the Children Act 2004 includes the promotion of: physical and mental health, and emotional well-being; protection from harm and neglect; education, training and recreation; the contribution made by (a child) to society and social and economic well-being. School Governors have a clear duty set down in primary legislation to promote well-being in schools. Bullying cannot be allowed to undermine the development of emotional health and well-being in a school.