Belfast Telegraph

Majority in Northern Ireland support new law on stalking

A review into stalking legislation was previously commissioned by the former Justice Minister Claire Sugden (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
A review into stalking legislation was previously commissioned by the former Justice Minister Claire Sugden (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
Andrew Madden

By Andrew Madden

The majority of people in Northern Ireland support the introduction of a new law on stalking, according to a public consultation.

However, a recommendation to introduce new laws will be shelved until power sharing is restored.

Following a number of high profile stalking cases in 2016, the then-Minister of Justice Claire Sugden commissioned a review into the current laws relating to stalking in Northern Ireland.

The review was due to be completed in April 2017, however, the collapse of Stormont hindered the process.

A consultation paper was then developed by the Department of Justice along with victims groups and partner organisations that formed a Stalking Reference Group.

It sought views on a range of issues, such as how cases are handled by the criminal justice system and the treatment of victims.

A total of 85 responses were received, 58 from members of the public and 27 from organisations.

Rather than having specific laws on stalking, such cases in Northern Ireland are frequently prosecuted under the offences of harassment and "putting people in fear of violence".

Some 93% of respondents felt that the current laws are insufficient and there are gaps in the legislation.

"Many respondents felt that there was a lack of understanding of the complexities of stalking by the police which allowed the behaviour to escalate," the consultation report stated.

"Victims felt that they weren’t being taken seriously by police and that complaints had not been fully investigated... Respondents also found it shocking that perpetrators who have clearly harassed or stalked their ex-partner as part of a wider campaign of abuse, had not been charged with harassment."

When asked what they thought were the main challenges of identifying stalking cases were, many said they felt there was a lack of awareness and understanding of stalking across the criminal justice system and a comprehensive training programme was needed.

A majority of respondents also said there was a need for the introduction of a stalking protection order and stalking should not be treated solely as a criminal justice issue.

Most respondents also felt a new stalking offence should require at least two incidents to constitute an crime.

In conclusion, the authors said they will be recommending to the next Justice Minister that a "stalking bill with legislative provisions to give effect to the introduction of a new specific offence of stalking, and stalking protection orders, be developed for introduction to a future Northern Ireland Assembly."

Peter May, Permanent Secretary of the Department of Justice, said: “We would like to thank everyone who responded to the consultation, including stakeholder organisations and people who have been directly affected by stalking.”

“Your contributions have helped shape our view on how to deal with stalking and offer better protection to victims. To this end, the Department continues to work closely with criminal justice agencies and victims’ groups to promote best practice models and guidance on addressing stalking behaviours.”

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