House of Commons Library

Stalking: criminal offences

Published Thursday, May 19, 2016

This Commons Library briefing paper gives an overview of two specific stalking offences introduced in England and Wales from November 2012. The offences were created by amendments to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

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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.

In 2013-14, 743 prosecutions were brought under the new stalking offence. In 2014-15, over 1,100 prosecutions were commenced.

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. According to the Government’s Ending Violence against Women and Girls Strategy (March 2016), the findings of the consultation will be published in the summer

Help for victims

Victims can call the National Stalking and Harassment Helpline (0808 802 0300). The Helpline’s website contains guidance for MPs dealing with stalking cases.

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

Related Library Briefing Paper

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

Commons Briefing papers SN06261

Author: John Woodhouse

Topic: Criminal law

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