New stalking legislation has seen hundreds of cases brought to court that may not have been charged under previous law, criminal prosecutors have revealed.
Legislation which came into force in November 2012 allows prosecutors to bring charges where an offender’s behaviour falls short of fear of violence, but where a victim is caused serious alarm or distress affecting their lifestyle.
In 2013/14 – the first full year since the new laws were introduced – 743 prosecutions were brought under new stalking offences created by the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said.
And prosecutions for all stalking and harassment offences, using both new and older legislation, increased by more than 20% in 2013/14 – from 8,648 in 2012/13 to 10,535 last year.
Director of public prosecutions Alison Saunders said: “I am pleased that prosecutors are making effective use of new stalking laws in order to protect victims and put their stalkers before the courts where previously, in some cases, we were unable to do so.
“These new offences enable us to bring people to court potentially before they risk going on to commit more serious crimes. The rise in prosecutions sends a message to both victims and criminals about how seriously we are taking these types of offences.”
Other figures showed that breaches of restraining and non-molestation orders, the vast majority of which relate to domestic violence cases and can involve stalking-related behaviours, have also seen a 14.6% rise in prosecutions brought to court in 2013/14, from 15,838 to 18,149.
And of the 743 cases brought under new laws, 529 involved fear, alarm or distress and 214 involved fear of violence, serious alarm or distress.
The CPS and Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) have also launched new guidance on handling stalking offences to ensure a consistent approach.
Rachel Griffin, director of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, the charity that runs the National Stalking Helpline, said: “We often hear from victims of stalking through the National Stalking Helpline who need more and better support through both the investigation and trial process, so we hope that the clearer guidance released today will aid in ensuring these victims get the help they deserve.”
The new guidance includes instructions for prosecutors to apply, where possible, for restraining orders on both conviction and acquittal in order to protect the ongoing safety and security of victims.
Restraining orders on acquittal can be an added protection for victims in situations where the likelihood of abuse may be ‘beyond the balance of probabilities’, a lower standard of proof than that usually required in criminal convictions of ‘beyond reasonable doubt’.
Data from the Ministry of Justice shows that 18,656 restraining orders were issued on conviction in 2013, compared with 18,611 in 2012 and 1,667 restraining orders were secured after acquittal compared with 1,448 in 2012.