Published 21 March 2013 | Standard notes SN06261
Crime, Crimes of violence, Criminal law
In March 2012, on International Women’s Day, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, announced that the Government would be introducing a specific criminal offence of stalking. This was done through an amendment to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 which was made by the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. The Act received Royal Assent on 1 May 2012, and the relevant provisions came into force on 25 November 2012.
The Prime Minister’s announcement followed a campaign by a number of organisations, including Protection Against Stalking, which led to a unique “Independent Parliamentary Inquiry” by the Justice Unions’ Parliamentary Group. Their report, published in February 2012, found that victims of stalking had a profound lack of confidence in the criminal justice system, and recommended that the 1997 Act be amended as part of a package of reforms. The shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper called for a similar change in the law at the Labour Party Conference in September 2011. The Government consulted on the issue between November 2011 and 5 February 2012.
The Protection of Harassment Act 1997 was originally introduced to deal with stalking but it did not specifically name the offence as that. Instead, it introduced two criminal offences of harassment. The less serious section 2 offence, pursuing a course of conduct amounting to harassment, is triable only in a magistrates’ court, where the maximum prison sentence which can be given is six months. The more serious section 4 offence (putting a person in fear of violence) is “triable either way” (in the Crown Court or a magistrates’ court) and has a maximum prison sentence of five years. Activities which would constituent stalking should theoretically fall within these broader offences.
The Parliamentary Inquiry called for similar changes to those introduced in Scotland in 2010. It wanted the section 2 offence to be triable either way to reflect its seriousness. It also wanted the section 4 offence replaced with a specific offence of stalking. The Government took a different approach. Their amendments left sections 2 and 4 of the 1997 Act intact, but introduce two new offences, of stalking, and of “stalking involving fear of violence” to sit alongside them. The first of these, like the section 2 offence, is a summary one. Only the offence involving fear of violence is triable in the Crown Court.
Elfyn Llwyd MP, who led the Parliamentary Campaign, welcomed its success. Protect Against Stalking said that its campaign would now move on to focus on implementation and training for criminal justice professionals. The Government published its response to the consultation document on 24 July 2012, after the Act had received Royal Assent. Guidance for prosecutors and police can be found the Home Office stalking page. The page also includes a link to the Home Office circular 018/2012 on the two new specific offences of stalking.