With a recent call for the introduction of new legislation in England and Wales to deal with cases of stalking, and National Stalking Awareness Day on 18th April 2012, below is a consideration of the current laws to protect individuals from such behaviour.
At present, the main statute which deals with such matters is the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. Under the provisions of this Act, it is an offence to pursue a course of conduct which the person knew or ought to have known amounted to the harassment of the victim. There does not have to be any relationship or connection between the offender and the victim to prosecute under this legislation and could therefore cover scenarios where a stranger is stalking the victim.
For the offence to be established, there must be more than one act to qualify as a “course of conduct”. Therefore one telephone call, text, letter, message on a social networking site, visit to the victim’s home or place of work will be insufficient to establish harassment as it must involve two or more incidents.
There are two types of harassment; one which involves a course of conduct without any violence being used, although it could be threatened (section 2) and the other which can involve deliberate threats and an intention to cause fear of violence (section 4).
The Section 2 offence can only be dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court whereas the more serious Section 4 offence can be dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court or the Crown Court, depending on the circumstances of the offence.
If an individual is convicted of an offence of harassment, the sentences range from a financial penalty to a sentence of imprisonment. There will also, almost certainly, be a Restraining Order made, which will prohibit the person convicted from contacting or going to the home address or work address of the victim for a specified period of time or indefinitely.
Breaching of a Restraining Order is a serious offence and almost always, unless very exceptional circumstances exist, justify consideration of a sentence of imprisonment.
Other legislation to prevent stalking type behaviour would include making an application to the County Court for a non-molestation order, but this can only be used if there is a connection between the victim and the person who is causing them harassment for example a partner or ex-partner, or other limited situations.
Prosecutions can also be bought by the Crown Prosecution Service under the Communications Act 2003 for sending grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or menacing messages (section 127(1)) or sending false message or making persistent use of a communications network for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety (section 127(2)). Sentences for both offences can range from a fine to a sentence of imprisonment and the Court can make an ASBO (anti social behaviour order) to prohibit the offender behaving in such a way in the future.
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The above is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.