On 25th November 2012 a law was brought into force to create new offences of 'stalking'. The new law creates three new offences of 'stalking', 'stalking involving fear of violence' and 'stalking involving serious alarm or distress'.
The closest existing legislation is that which relates to offences of harassment but the new legislation recognises that stalking has now been seen to be a specific crime separate from harassment. The new offences have the same maximum sentence as the two different types of harassment currently on the statute books, but it is perhaps likely that the CPS will be under pressure to use the new stalking offences rather than harassment wherever possible. Conversely it is perhaps the situation that those charged might be more willing to plead guilty to a harassment offence rather then a charge of stalking, as it may be anticipated that 'stalking' is likely to carry a greater social stigma then harassment.
In relation to the new stalking offences the prosecution have a greater burden in proving the offences. They have to prove the same elements as those relating to charges of harassment but with the extra burden of proving that the conduct complained off amounted to 'stalking'.
The legislation sets out examples of acts or omissions which would potentially be considered to be associated with stalking as follows:-
- Following a person.
- Contact, or attempting to contact, a person by any means.
- Publishing any statement or other material relating or purporting to relate to a person, or purporting to originate from a person.
- Monitoring the use by a person of the internet, email or any other form of electronic communication.
- Loitering in any place (whether public or private).
- Interfering with any property in the possession of a person.
- Watching or spying on a person.
This list should not be taken as exhaustive as the wording of the relevant legislation makes it clear that it is not. It will therefore be the job of the courts to look at the various acts complained of and decide whether in the particular circumstances of the case under consideration, they constitute stalking.
Jeremy Browne, the Lib Dem crime prevention minister stated that it is estimated that 1 in 6 women is pursued by a stalker at some stage in their life. He says the new offences will make it "clear" that stalking will be prosecuted by police. He said "it is the sort of offence that people can sometimes brush under the carpet, not be aware of. It is something that has been trivialised in the past as just people, mainly women, being a bit bothered but nothing to worry about too much. But we are saying it is a serious offence."
Scotland brought in similar laws 2 years ago and Mr Browne that there was some evidence that making stalking a specific offence helps convict more people.
It is believed that around 120,000 women are stalked each year but only half of the incidents lead to a reported crime and only 1 in 50 incidents leads to a conviction.