Monday, November 14, 2011

Stalking as an offence

The news is that Stalking is to be made a specific offence. As it stands it's not but every newspaper seems to have cribbed the definition from the Crown Prosecution Service as a

long-term pattern of persistent and repeated contact with, or attempts to contact, a particular victim
which should ring alarm bells for the use of the word victim which is prejudicial. So besides that this is a good thing right? Possibly depending on how well the offence is phrased. Consider for instance a debt collection agency trying to obtain money from a 'victim' on behalf of their client - would their "long term pattern of persistent and repeated contact" be classed as stalking under a new law?

As it stands there is already a Protection from Harassment Act so why does stalking need to be specifically added? In principle it doesn't as the PHA covers stalking simply by being
  • a course of conduct;
  • which amounts to harassment of another; and
  • which the defendant knows, or ought to know amounts to harassment of another. 
How is stalking not covered by that? Well what if the person isn't directly contacting them - by stalking the general consensus may be that they're following a person around and spying on them without any direct contact. Is that covered by the PHA? Well yes in two ways it's still a course of conduct which amounts to harassment and may be:
  • a course of conduct;
  • which causes another to fear that violence will be used against him; and
  • which the defendant knows or ought to know will cause another to fear that violence will be used against him; and
  • the defendant ought to know that his course of conduct will cause another to fear that violence will be used against them if a reasonable person in possession of the same information would think that the course of conduct would cause the other so to fear on that occasion. 
So to recap if someone is repeatedly contacting or trying to contact someone - that's harassment and covered by the PHA; if they're simply following them around that could be a "cause to fear [...] violence" and is also harassment.

If they're neither of these things then they're simply being a nuisance from the point of view of the 'victim' and why should the law be getting involved in that if it's not a public nuisance?

There's no need to add new laws and definitions if the existing laws already cover it. In this instance why should stalking be classed as being any different from repeated harassment?