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Solicitor Duncan Ranton discusses the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012

On Sunday 25 November, two provisions of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 entered into force. Taken together, these introduce a criminal offence of “stalking” into English law. The new provisions will supplement the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. That Act made harassment in its widest sense a crime and also a civil infringement of rights for which a victim could seek protective injunctions and damages. But the Act was not designed to address the more subtle and sinister – but still hugely damaging – types of harassment which modern stalking takes.

Alongside the broader criminal offence of harassment will now sit the crime of stalking, which may include:

• 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, or
• watching or spying on a person.
The definition of “stalking” is illustrative rather than exhaustive; there may be other behaviours of a similar nature that will fall within the definition.

A person found guilty of stalking faces a maximum six-month prison sentence. For stalking involving fear of violence or serious alarm or distress to the victim, the maximum penalty is increased to five years. The criminalisation of stalking is the culmination of calls for reform following a number of high profile cases. These include some where stalkers went on to kill those who were the focus of their obsessions, such as Clifford Mills, who stalked his ex-girlfriend Lorna Smith on Facebook before stabbing her to death at his South London flat in February 2011 last year. This new legislation is to be welcomed and is long overdue. Stalking was made an offence Scotland in 2010, so once again in England we are playing legal catch-up. Any measure that enables harassment, intimidation and stalking to be dealt with swiftly and effectively before it evolves into more direct offences against those affected is to be welcomed.

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