Defending an allegation of stalking
New offences of stalking (in addition to the existing offences of harassment) were introduced by Parliament relatively recently in 2012. The offences are harassment which involves a course of conduct that amounts to stalking.
There are two offences. These are stalking involving fear of violence and stalking involving serious alarm or distress.
What is stalking?
There is no strict definition, but the legislation lists a number of behaviours associated with stalking:
- following a person
- contacting or attempting to contact a person by any means
- publishing material relating to a person or purporting to come from them
- monitoring a person’s use of the internet, email or communications
- interfering with any property in the possession of a person
- watching or spying on a person
The list is not exhaustive. Nor is behaving in one of these ways automatically stalking. Context is everything in such offences.
What must the prosecution prove in a stalking case?
- That there is a course of conduct
- which constitutes harassment, and
- the course of conduct amounts to stalking.
Additionally, for the offence involving fear of violence it must be proven that:
- the conduct 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.
The test as to whether a suspect “ought to know” these things about their conduct is whether a reasonable person in possession of the same information would think that the course of conduct would cause the other to fear violence.
It is an offence if conduct amounts to stalking and causes another to fear, on at least two occasions, that violence will be used. Alternatively, it will be an offence if the conduct causes serious alarm or distress and this has a substantial effect on a person’s day to day activities.
This could mean that they have to, for example:
- change a route they normally use
- move home
- change the way they socialise.
It could also mean a change to a person’s physical or mental health.
Are there any defences to stalking?
It is a defence to show –
- the course of conduct was pursued for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime
- the course of conduct was pursued under a rule of law
- that any conduct was reasonable
Additionally, for the offence alleging a fear of violence offence, it will be a defence if the course of conduct was reasonable for the protection of the defendant or another, or for the protection of their or another’s property.
What sentence could I get for stalking?
For the offence causing fear of violence or serious alarm or distress the maximum sentence is 10 years imprisonment for an offence on or after 2 April 2017. The maximum sentence is 5 years for offences committed prior to that date.
A restraining order to protect the victim from further contact can also be imposed. This could be the case even where a defendant is found not guilty of the offence.
Seek early advice from an expert in criminal law
These are serious allegations. The law is complex. As a result, if you are arrested or know that the police wish to speak to you about an offence then make sure you insist on your right to free and independent legal advice.
As experienced defence solicitors we know that there is always another side to the story, let us tell that for you.
If you have already been interviewed or face court proceedings we can still make a real difference to the outcome of your case. Legal aid may well be available to fund your defence at court.
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