Victims Needs are the Focus in Stalking and Harassment Convictions

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A recent law, the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, targeted at stalking and harassment, has seen a 20% rise in prosecutions for the crimes. In total, nearly 750 cases have been brought under the new legislation that previously may not have made it to court. With the rise in awareness and prosecutions, all services involved still need to be aware of the effect that this type of unwanted behaviour has on its victims.

Stalking and harassment prosecutions on the rise

New Protocol Aimed at Victims

There has been an approximate 15% rise in the number of prosecutions for breaching non- molestation and restraining orders during in 2013/2014, many of which relate to domestic violence cases. "We offer support to victims of stalking in order to obtain advice, and possible Court Orders to protect them," says an expert family lawyer for Simpson Millar LLP who works closely with the national stalking charity Paladin. Court Orders can be effective, as the perpetrators of the violence may go on to stalk or harass their victims to continue the abuse.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) have unveiled a new Protocol on the Appropriate Handling of Stalking Offences, to ensure a consistent approach to tackling all forms of stalking, including the rise in cyber-stalking. This is something that we highlighted recently in the wake of a new app called mCouple.

The idea behind the app is that couples can download it onto their phones and exchange an ID. They then use this ID to access their partners text messages, Facebook, location services etc. There is a more menacing side to what seems like a harmless app. Being forced into using this app so your partner can monitor you, or having it downloaded onto your phone without your knowledge is a clear breach of your privacy and a sign that something may not be right in your relationship. In a worst-case scenario, it could lead to abuse.

New Law sees Rise in Prosecutions

The new law has given the power to charge stalkers even without them directly threatening the person they have targeted. This is important where the behaviour has fallen short of fear of violence. It is now an offence to follow, contact, monitor emails, loiter near, watch or spy upon someone if it causes them alarm or distress and it has a large effect on their day-to-day activities.

Included in the new protocol, is that the CPS and ACPO agree that these same measures apply to online stalking. This reinforces our concerns about the mCouple app.

Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has said that victims now feel more confident to come forward and ask for help. She has been working to make the system for dealing with victims and perpetrators more robust to bolster the number of convictions for offenders. In 2012/2013, under both the old and new legislation, there were 8,648 prosecutions for stalking and harassment. In the last year that figure has jumped to 10,535 in England and Wales.

We are pleased that the victim is being put at the heart of these changes. This is essential with offences such as stalking and harassment as they can have such a long lasting effect on their wellbeing and quality of life.

Paladin, who work with high risk victims of stalking countrywide, also welcomed the guidance but stressed that additional training was needed for this type of offence. "The lack of investment in prosecutors' training to date has resulted in many victims being let down and put at further risk" said Laura Richards, CEO and founder of the service.

The Family law team here at Simpson Millar LLP are working in partnership with Paladin and other services nationally to tackle this problem as part of the fight against domestic abuse.




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