House of Commons Library

Stalking: criminal offences

Published Friday, June 9, 2017

The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 was introduced to deal with stalking, but critics argued that it was not effective enough. Scotland introduced a specific offence of stalking in 2010, and England and Wales created two new specific offences in 2012. Northern Ireland still relies on the more general offence of harassment.

Jump to full report >>

The Protection from Harassment Act 1997

The Protection from 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

Problems with the 1997 Act

Campaigners, including the Protection Against Stalking charity, argued that the 1997 Act was not effective in dealing with stalking. The campaign led to an “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 Coalition Government consulted on whether or not there should be changes to the law, including a separate offence of stalking.

Two stalking offences introduced in England and Wales

The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 amended the 1997 Act and created two new offences of stalking:

  • stalking (section 2A) which is pursuing a course of conduct which amounts to harassment and which also amounts to stalking
  • stalking (section 4A) involving fear or violence or serious alarm or distress

The offences came into force on 25 November 2012.

Just over 1,100 prosecutions were commenced under the new stalking offences in both 2015-16 and 2014-14, up from 743 in 2013-14.

The maximum prison sentence for the more serious section 4A offence was doubled to ten years from April 2017.

A stalking protection order?

In December 2015, the Home Office published a consultation on whether to introduce a stalking protection order for cases of “stranger stalking”. The consultation closed on 29 February 2016. The Government published its response to the consultation in December 2016, promising that the Government would legislate to introduce stalking protection orders “as soon as Parliamentary time allows”.

Guidance

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has published legal guidance on Stalking and Harassment. The College of Policing website has current guidance for the police on its Stalking and Harassment page and is working on new Authorised Professional Practice on harassment and stalking.13F

In September 2014, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and Association of Chief Police Officers (now the National Police Chiefs’ Council) launched a new protocol on handling stalking cases.

Help for victims

Victims can call the National Stalking and Harassment Helpline (0808 802 0300).

The Paladin (National Stalking Advocacy Service) website includes Advice for Victims and Advice for Professionals.

Victim Support also provides information on stalking and harassment, and has a telephone information line, the Victims’ Information Service on 0808 168 9293.

Scotland

Scotland introduced specific stalking offences two years before England and Wales, in the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010.  Section 39 of the 2010 Act defines conduct which amounts to stalking by means of a list of behaviours. This includes following or attempting to contact the victim; monitoring electronic communications; watching and spying.  It also includes a “catch all” “acting in any other way that a reasonable person would expect would cause (the victim) to suffer fear or alarm”.

The Scottish Government has information on support for stalking victims on the Stalking: Support pages of the mygov.scot website. Police Scotland has advice for victims on the stalking page of its website, including an online Stalking Form.

Victim Support Scotland has a helpline on 0345 6039213

People in Scotland can also contact the National Stalking Helpline on 0808 802 0300.

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland has the Protection from Harassment (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 which is similar to Protection from Harassment Act 1997.  However, it does not include specific stalking offences. Before the Northern Ireland Assembly was dissolved in January 2017, its Justice Committee conducted a Review of the Need for Stalking Legislation in Northern Ireland.

The Police Service Northern Ireland provides information on Harassment and Stalking, including a leaflet, Stalking and harassment: advice and information.

Victim Support Northern Ireland provides practical help and information for victims on their Help for victims: Stalking page.

Related Library briefing paper

The Library has published a paper on the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

Commons Briefing papers SN06261

Author: Pat Strickland

Topic: Criminal law

Share this page

Stay up to date

  • Subscribe to RSS feed Subscribe to Email alerts Commons Briefing papers

House of Commons Library

The House of Commons Library provides research, analysis and information services for MPs and their staff.