Is there legal protection from stalking in England and Wales?

As of 25th November 2012 amendments to the Protection from Harassment Act have been made that makes stalking a specific offence in England and Wales for the first time. The amendments were made under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. The amendments can only be used to deal with stalking incidents that occur after 25th November 2012; stalking prior to this will still be dealt with as ‘harassment’ under sections 2 and 4 of the Protection from Harassment Act.

There are two new amendments; section 2A stalking and section 4A stalking. To prove a section 2A it needs to be shown that a perpetrator pursued a course of conduct which amounts to harassment and that the particular harassment can be described as stalking behaviour. Stalking is not legally defined, but the amendments include a list of example behaviours which are following, contacting/attempting to contact, publishing statements or material about the victim, monitoring the victim (including online), loitering in a public or private place, interfering with property, watching or spying. This is a non exhaustive list which means that behaviour which is not described above may also be seen as stalking. A course of conduct is 2 or more incidents.

Section 4A is stalking involving fear of violence or serious alarm of distress. Again serious alarm and distress is not defined but can include behaviour which causes the victim to suffer emotional or psychological trauma or have to change the way they live their life.

If at the trial of a 4A offence the jury find the offender not guilty, they may still be able to find the person guilty of an offence under 2A.

Sections 2 and 4 of the Protection from Harassment Act can also still be used to prosecute harassment. Harassment is described in the Act as a course of conduct which (a) amounts to harassment of another and, (b) which they know or ought to know amounts to harassment of another. Sections 2 and 2A are summary only offences and there is a maximum prison sentence of 6 months. Sections 4 and 4A are either way offences with a maximum prison sentence of 5 years.

Is there legal protection from stalking in Scotland?

Yes. Prior to 2010 stalking behaviour was not recognised as a serious crime in Scotland and stalking was prosecuted as a form of harassment under the common law ‘Breach of the Peace’. Whilst historically flexible to cover a multitude of common garden offences, Breach of the Peace did not fully encompass, define or reflect the seriousness of stalking and victim impact held no place.

In April 2010 the Justice Committee at Scottish Parliament cast a unanimous vote for proposed anti stalking legislation to be included into Scotland’s Criminal Justice System. Stalking is now on the agenda for the VAW National Training Strategy, the ‘Commission for Equality of Human Rights’ and all major government funded organisations. Supported by ACPOS and the Crown Office Procurator Fiscal Service, Police Scotland are to receive training on policing stalking crime and for the first time ever, a stalking DVD training tool has been produced to be delivered across Scotland to all Crown Office Procurator Fiscal Staff.

The Criminal Justice and Licensing Act was passed on June 30th 2010 and came into affect on December 13th 2010. Section 39 of this Act makes stalking a criminal offence. You can read the legislation by clicking here.

Is there legal protection from stalking in Northern Ireland?

Yes. The Protection from Harassment Order 1997 (Northern Ireland) is similar to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (England and Wales). To view the legislation is Northern Ireland visit  and search under Protection from Harassment Order