Current NI Laws
Stalking was made a criminal offence in England and Wales in November 2012. Two new offences were introduced – stalking, and stalking where there is a fear of violence. Northern Ireland uses The Protection from Harassment (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 http://www.statutelaw.gov.uk
Until the current law in place is reviewed and more effective, it is important for victims in Northern Ireland, to know their legal rights and what the current Protection from Harassment (Northern Ireland) 1997, is offering. Under the Article 8 Act, of the Human Rights Act 1998, everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
“Insufficient evidence” is likely to be the reason the majority of criminal harassment cases fail, as evidence is not easy to obtain. When the threats are at their highest and most sinister, they are normally done in a way that is undetected to witnesses, and anonymously. And when witnesses see what is happening they are likely to shy away as they do not want this attention to divert to themselves. Although the police may believe you, and recognise what is happening, it is the Justice system that look for a level of evidence that will stand up in court, and can only be gathered if the victim knows what to look for and how to capture it. Again this is very difficult when the victim is living in fear and day to day survival is all they can manage. See Reporting page on this site.
Life Changes & Costs
A victim may also feel resentful at the lack of help available to stop it, often resulting in having to pay for their own legal intervention (costing two thousand pounds and upwards), installing expensive security systems, having to move home/location, change cars, and /or leave/change jobs. The Crown Prosecution website has listed the changes a person may need to make to their daily life as a result of enduring this. Also be aware that if you don’t take action and start some form of legal proceedings, or police reporting, that the person stalking you, could reverse the victimhood and start their own proceedings. Documented and known to PSNI as counter allegation. It is useful to keep in mind some solicitors will act on their client’s instruction, if their fees are being met, regardless of evidence or credibility of the allegations presented.
It is unfortunate that valuable resources are used to “police” socially unacceptable behaviour of mature adults, whom are capable of knowing what is right from wrong but will not relent. This is a mental health issue with criminal behaviour and is not always understood by those that deal with it. The justice system however does quote that mental illness is not a defence, and PSNI quotes that although their behaviour is detrimental, costly and dangerous to those that they stalk, a significant minority of stalkers have a serious mental illness underlying their behaviour.
It cannot be stopped, unless the stalking behaviour escalates and can be evidenced, ideally by a third party. Gathering effective evidence is vital to conviction, and your smart phone is a valuable tool for keeping with you at all times.
See the Reporting page on this site to get advice for this.
Laws Available To Use
Under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, you can obtain an injunction (i.e. an order from a court that the person stops doing the acts that amount to stalking or harassment) and damages for anxiety and any financial loss you have suffered.
If the stalker breaches the injunction (in other words, does something which the court has ordered him/her not to do) that is either:
- a) A criminal offence — for which they can be arrested by the Police, prosecuted by the CPS and imprisoned by a criminal court for up to 5 years, or
- b) A contempt of court — for which you can apply to the civil court for them to be imprisoned for up to 2 years
You may be eligible for Public Funding (what we used to call Legal Aid) but that is increasingly difficult to get and you will need to talk to a solicitor or your local Citizens Advice Bureau about that.
Laws that may be applicable to your situation:
An Non Molestation is a stronger law, and gives the PSNI more power to arrest if needed.
You also have a right to legal representation if you report a crime and support from Victims Support. If seeking a solicitor request one experienced in harassment or domestic violence.
If you have been affected by stalking please help create much needed statistical understanding and evidence, to evidence need for law change to protect you, your family and others. Please complete the anonymous survey attached to this site.