I’ve been pretty sceptical about the merit of the new stalking offences introduced earlier this year. As discussed in previous posts (here and here) they struck me as superfluous and did not address the real problem. It comes as no surprise then they do not appear to be working. Not yet at any rate.
The new offences were introduced because it was said that the existing provisions in the Protection from Harassment Act were unfit for purpose. That at least was the headline finding of the Independent Parliamentary Inquiry into Stalking Law Reform.
In fact what the report really highlighted was that the Act was not being used effectively and even when it was, enforcement was ineffective. The Inquiry recorded the British Crime Survey of 2006 estimating up to 120,000 people experiencing stalking each year but only 53,029 harassment cases recorded by the Police in 2009 and only 5,151 people convicted. Of those 735 were given a custodial sentence.
As to enforcement, on a conviction, the Court has power to make a restraining order, effectively granting a protective injunction. In 2009 there were 1,463 convictions for breach of such a restraining order. Of those, 32% were given custodial sentences but strikingly, evidence from PAS and Napo was that some perpetrators breached their restraining order 5 times or more but still avoided custodial sentences.
They cite a survey carried out by Paladin, the National Stalking Advocacy Service, which reveals that there were 320 arrests and 189 charges under the new legislation in the first 6 months after the introduction of the new offences. However, only 33 people were convicted and less than 20% of those convicted received prison sentences.
So, we have new offences but the problem lies in their being used and enforced effectively. Ring any bells?