The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 made harassment an offence. Broadly, the 1997 Act applies where there is a “course of conduct” of harassment against a person. This is typically where harassment has occurred on at least two occasions in relation to the same individual. Harassment is not specifically defined, other than that it includes causing alarm or distress.
New legislation amends the Act to make “conduct associated with stalking” an offence, provided the “stalking” also amounts to harassment. The legislation gives examples of conduct “associated with” stalking:
- following someone;
- contacting or attempting to contact them;
- publishing any statement or other material relating to a person;
- monitoring their use of internet, email or other electronic communication;
- interfering with their property;
- •watching or spying on them.
This list is not exhaustive and it will be for the courts to interpret the limits of the legislation. Stalking will be punishable by up to 51 weeks’ imprisonment and a fine. A further offence of “stalking involving fear of violence” is also introduced, punishable by up to 5 years’ imprisonment and a fine.
These changes will become enforceable once regulations are in place implementing the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 which received Royal Assent on 1 May 2012.