New Stalking Offences

Following amendments to the Protection of Freedom Bill, the promised legislation to make stalking a specific criminal offence is close to becoming a reality. Amendments passed on 19 March will introduce new sections in the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 to create two separate offences of stalking.

One, under a new s2A will be a lower level offence of stalking causing fear or alarm. The second, under s4A, is a more serious offence of stalking causing either a fear of violence or serious alarm or distress which has a substantial adverse effect on someone’s daily activities.

The offence under s2A will be triable only in the Magistrates Court while the s4A offence will be triable either way but is expected to be sent to the Crown Court in the majority of cases.

 

The amendments are warmly welcomed by Protection Against Stalking as an important step in the battle against stalking. Their expert knowledge is not lightly ignored and it is impossible to overstate the importance of combatting the pernicious evil of stalking and protecting targets from the devastating damage it can cause.

All the same, I continue to harbour serious doubts that creating a new offence (let alone two) is really the answer. Indeed, the definition of stalking discloses just how superfluous the offence is. The proposed s2A(2) provides that conduct amounts to stalking if, among other things, it amounts to harassment. As harassment is already an offence under s2, it is difficult to see what s2A achieves besides confusing things.

The strength of the new offences is also undermined by the fact that under the existing amendment there is no provision for a linked amendment of s5. This presently empowers the criminal court to impose restraining orders on offenders and these may be in very broad terms to prevent the target from further harassment.

Breach of the order is itself an offence and may be much easier to prove than a fresh harassment charge. However that power will not exist in the case of offences under ss2A and 4A unless s5 is amended to say so. This would be an odd and unjustified anomaly so hopefully this will be spotted.

All that said, it seems to me the real issue is not truly about the available offences but about how complaints are investigated and prosecuted and how offenders are dealt with. As Laura Richards, co-founder of PAS says, “We need to now develop the training packages and train criminal justice staff adequately. This is now critical to ensure early identification, intervention and prevention.”

In the same LexisNexis news article (LNB News 04/04/2012 65 but only available to subscribers) Ms Richards adds “This is just the start and we still need to continue to raise awareness of stalking” and it is pleasing to report that the excellent work PAS does to that end continues on 18 April with National Stalking Awareness Day.

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5 Comments

Filed under Comment, Harassment, News

5 responses to “New Stalking Offences

  1. Pingback: Cyber stalking – profiling, harassment and containment – Keeping Sweet in Seattle

  2. Hi Nick Laura Richards and Harry Fletcher trumpeted their achievement in a self congratulatory article in the Guardian “How we Changed the Law on Stalking” http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/apr/10/how-we-changed-stalking-law My own comments in the Comments Section of the site are as follows
    “I wouldn’t get too excited by this article. Other than the fact that the two new offences are called “stalking” they offer no advantage over the existing offences in the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

    QUOTE: “The inquiry heard about campaigns of intimidation and fear, many of which had lasted for years. In all cases the response of the criminal justice authorities was at best haphazard and at worse indifferent”
    True but not because of any problems with the law the problem was that the existing law was not being applied and enforced. The remark in the Article that the existing law is “not fit for purpose” is rubbish. In the entire report produced by the enquiry there was not one single example given of a case of stalking that could not be prosecuted because of inadequacies in the existing law. There were numerous examples where the Police were ignoring complaints of stalking and not taking them seriously enough but that was never because the behaviour could not be prosecuted under the Act.

    QUOTE “Who would have thought that by April 2012, stalking – involving the fear of violence and psychological harm – would become an offence on the statute book. How did we do it?”

    Reply to Question: Stalking involving a fear of violence has been an offence since 1997 see s4 Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and stalking causing psychological harm has been an offence since the 1996 cases of R v Burstow and R v Ireland”

    Re s5 this was amended in 2010 when s12 Domestic Violence Crime and Victims Act 2004 was brought into force. A Criminal Court can now make a Restraining Order following conviction for Any Criminal offence if they consider it necessary to protect the victim or others from further behaviour which could cause harassment or fear of violence so the creation of the two “new” stalking offences does not require s5 to be amended.

    • Nick Hanning

      Thanks Neil, especially for clarifying s5. My fault for relying on the official legislation site which is hopeless at updating.

  3. Pingback: Stalked… But Still Hiding Some Of Me | Infinite Sadness… or what?

  4. Pingback: SYNTHETIC TELEPATHY AND THE EARLY MIND WARS Richard Alan Miller, c2001 « Organized Stalking Network Belgique

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