The report and recommendations arising from the Independent Parliamentary Inquiry into Stalking Law Reform was published this week. The report concludes that the existing laws on harassment and stalking are not 'fit for purpose' and that fundamental reform is needed.
Specifically the report 's recommendations call for an offence of stalking to be introduced in England and Wales without delay. The report also calls for fundamental changes to training, risk assessment of victims and treatment of offenders. Critically the report also calls for the establishment of a Victims Advocacy Scheme to signpost and support victims of stalking through the criminal justice system.
The Inquiry panel consisted of 15 members including Sandra Osborne MP.
Sandra heard harrowing evidence from a range of victims of stalking who described their lack of confidence in the criminal justice system and their fears that their complaints were not taken seriously. They also criticised the lack of treatment for perpetrators. Overwhelmingly the victims told the Inquiry that their complaints were rarely recorded as crimes and even if they were hardly any perpetrators received a custodial sentence and none appeared to receive treatment.
Many of the victims complained that the stalking had been going on for years and there had been hundreds of incidents including unwanted emails, letters and gifts, offenders loitering near homes and workplaces , being followed and spied on and receiving threats of a violent nature. Repeatedly the parliamentarians were told that unless there was early intervention, behaviour escalated and resulted in serious violence and even death.
The inquiry was launched in June 2011 following requests from Laura Richards from Protection Against Stalking and Harry Fletcher from NAPO, the Probation trade union, that an investigation be held into the inadequacy of the law. They acted as advisers to the Inquiry and told Sandra that the existing law, the Protection from Harassment (1997) was woefully inadequate and needed drastic reform. Following the publication of the report a comprehensive parliamentary bill has been drafted which it is hoped will be introduced into parliament in the very near future following a forthcoming meeting with the Prime Minister.
The Inquiry heard from Ann Moulds from Action Against Stalking who spearheaded the campaign to create a specific offence of Stalking in Scotland. Legislation was passed in the Scottish Parliament in December 2010. There were 150 prosecutions in the first four months of the Act being implemented. The latest figures from Scotland (December 2011) show that over 400 alleged stalkers were prosecuted in the first 11 months of 2011.
Sandra said: ' I was approached by Ann Moulds some time ago after I met her at a conference in Ayr where she spoke of her own personal experience which was horrendous. She asked me to support her campaign and I was delighted that such positive progress was made and that stalking is now recognised as a specific crime in Scotland. It is early days but the figures speak for themselves in showing the difference the new law has made.
I know my colleagues on the Inquiry were very impressed to hear of what had been achieved in Scotland and I am sure it played a big part in the outcome of the Inquiry. Stalking knows no borders and women in England and Wales deserve the same protection as Scottish women who make up the majority of victims of this debilitating and life threatening crime. It is great that Scotland has lead the way on this and I am hopeful that following our campaign England and Wales will soon follow.'