With the introduction of Stalking Protection Orders we look at whether they are going to be a useful tool or a way of saving time and money by not prosecuting a perpetrator.
The orders can be applied for by a police officer of a rank not below Superintendent.
The application can be for an interim order or a full order. A full order will normally last 2 years with a breach on Indictment carrying up to 5 years in prison and or a fine. If a person served with an order disputes it, they can appeal it to a Crown Court. It is important that anyone accused of something they haven’t done seeks immediate advice.
These orders can be very restrictive with conditions imposed on them such as requirements to attend an assessment of suitability for treatment; attend an appropriate perpetrator intervention programme; attend a mental health assessment; attend a drugs and alcohol programme; surrender devices; provide the police with access to social media accounts, mobile phones, computers, tablets and passwords/codes; and/or sign on at a police station.
There is no doubt that victims of such obsessive behaviour are at risk and need protecting, but what about those people that make allegations that aren’t true? (and there are people out there that make false accusations every single day), could they accuse a person of one of the many things below and be served with an order? Yes of course they could. Where is the protection for them?
Examples of stalking behaviour are listed within the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 which includes the following non-exhaustive list of examples of acts or omissions associated with stalking:
Following a person, contacting, or attempting to contact, a person by any means, publishing any statement or other material relating or purporting to relate to a person, or purporting to originate from a person, monitoring the use by a person of the internet, email or any other form of electronic communication, loitering in any place (whether public or private), interfering with any property in the possession of a person, watching or spying on a person.
Other examples are contacting the victim’s children, partner, other family members, friends, co- workers or other third parties. Stalking by proxy (stalking people connected to the ‘primary’ victim). Sending unsolicited gifts or other items to the victim. Hacking the victim’s social media accounts, email, phone or computer.
Using multiple social media accounts, email addresses or phone numbers to contact the victim, which may include the use of aliases. Information gathering on the victim, such as by contacting third parties, searching public records, stealing private documents belonging to the victim or viewing them without the victim’s knowledge. Impersonating the victim in order to gather information about them. Bringing vexatious litigation or making vexatious counter-allegations against the victim, or otherwise using official processes to perpetuate contact with the victim, cause them distress or drain their resources.
Cancelling or procuring goods or services to the victim. Joining the same gym, church, medical practice, educational course, workplace, sports club or other group as the victim. Criminal damage or breaking into the victim’s home, garden or vehicle. Creating or exploiting disputes between the victim and their friends, family or wider support network, to isolate the victim and make them dependent on the perpetrator. Creating social media posts or websites containing malicious or personal content relating to the victim or referencing things which would have meaning only to the victim. Threatening violence against the victim, or actually attacking them. Monitoring the victim by planting tracking or bugging devices, or by installing or activating a programme or application on the victim’s personal devices. Publishing or threatening to publish personal information or images relating to the victim (so called revenge porn or doxing). Threatening suicide or self-harm, or otherwise manipulating the victim to respond to contact. In the case of former intimate partners, carrying out a campaign of economic abuse (for example, seeking to control their access to money, employment, food or other essential resources).
The Protection from Harassment Act already provides safeguards, is the Stalking Protection Order another way to circumvent the police having to investigate and charge someone who is behaving in a way that puts someone at risk?
At the end of the day it’s another piece of paper, and those intent on behaving in such a manner aren’t going to stop because of that. They need to be investigated and charged and the courts given powers to suitably punish and protect.
This blog was written by: Lynn Mahon
DISCLAIMER: Please note that this post sets out the general position under the general law. It should not be acted upon in any specific circumstances without taking specific legal advice as to those circumstances. Also, it should not be relied upon, acted upon or treated as a substitute for specific advice relevant to particular circumstances. If you do require specific advice please contact us for assistance.