When Is It OK to Threaten Legal Proceedings?

Whether you’re preparing for a legal proceeding or already involved in a legal proceeding, it is actually quite common for people to threaten legal action. However, there are different consequences depending on the type of legal proceeding and extent of your threat. Let’s find out more about when it’s acceptable to threaten legal proceedings. First things first, what is a threat?

Table of Contents

What is a threat?

In a criminal context, a threat involves a person communicating to another individual of imminent bodily harm. The communication can be verbal (through email or text message) or even through body gestures or movements. This type of ‘threat’ is more commonly known as an ‘assault’ in a criminal context. Depending on the specific facts and unique circumstances of each case, whoever assaults any person can be liable to imprisonment for two years under Section 61 of the Crimes Act 1900.

In a civil context, a threat can similarly mean a communicated intent to inflict harm or loss on either an individual or his/her property. Essentially, a threat can be any form of communication to another party of imminent harm.

A legal proceeding can be any form of legal action, suit, litigation, arbitration, hearing, examination or investigation involving the court or other governmental body. This covers all areas of law; namely civil criminal, administrative, investigative or appellate proceedings.

Now we can dive into the answer you’re really looking for.

Short answer – yes. It is actually quite common and completely acceptable to threaten legal proceedings if and only if, the individual’s intention is in good faith to resolve a dispute. For example, many companies use Demand Letters to collect outstanding debts and lawfully threaten to take legal action if the debt is not addressed.

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Consider the definition of a threat in both civil and criminal context. To recall, causing one to fear an imminent unlawful violence is indeed illegal. This means threatening to file a suit (merely communicating an intention to bring a legal action against an individual) is most likely to not constitute ‘violence’. In other words, it is okay as long as you ‘threaten’ another individual with legal proceedings in a reasonably polite manner that does not involve an infliction of harm.

So how do you threaten legal proceedings in good faith then? In drafting your threat letter, consider the following elements:

  1. Be calm, respectful, polite and most importantly, professional
  2. State the relief you desire clearly
  3. Specify the type of legal proceeding and the legal consequences if the recipient does not respond
  4. Do not include any form of personal, irrational desire to inflict harm or damage on the individual that is unlawful

For clarity, here are some basic examples of threatening legal proceedings that is likely to be held illegal:

  • “Sell me your house for cheap or I’ll accuse you of murder”
  • “Come to my room or else I’ll press charges for a breach of contract”
  • “I’m going to make this extra expensive because you won’t tell me the truth” (i.e. blackmailing)

Always remain professional in drafting your threat letter! If you’re still unsure, you should definitely seek professional advice for further clarity and information.

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