25 November 2013 was the first anniversary of the introduction of two new specific offences of stalking. This was done through an amendment to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 by the Protection of Freedoms Act 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:
• Pursuing a course of conduct amounting to harassment
• Putting a person in fear of violence
A 2000 Home Office evaluation of the 1997 Act found that it was actually rarely used for “classic” stalking cases, and was far more often used to deal with lower level harassment by neighbours and former partners.
The changes to the law followed a campaign by a number of organisations, including Protection Against Stalking. The campaign led to an unusual “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, and tabled amendments to the Protection of Freedoms Bill which was going through Parliament. Elfyn Llwyd MP, who led the Parliamentary Campaign, welcomed its success. The focus of campaigners is now on implementation, with some expressing concern about what they say is inadequate progress in implementation, especially in training the police and other criminal justice professionals.
Victims can call the National Stalking and Harassment Helpline (0808 802 0300). Their website also contains guidance for MPs dealing with stalking cases. A new advocacy organisation, Paladin, also contains Advice for Victims and Advice for Professionals.