10 year terms, £5k fines and stalking orders will save lives: Mary Durkan

Derry councillor Mary Durkan has urged people to have their say on a new bill that will make a new offence of stalking punishable by jail terms of up to ten years and fines of up to £5,000.

Tuesday, 6th April 2021, 12:01 pm
Mary Durkan says the Protection from Harassment (NI) Order is outdated and was legislated before the dawn of social media & modern communications.

The Protection from Stalking Bill is currently progressing through the Assembly.

Colr. Durkan said the legislation is a crucial step towards tackling the wider issue of violence against women and girls. She is encouraging more people to respond in the final weeks of a consultation on the bill which closes on Friday, April 16.

“It’s not before time, but we must welcome the fact that the Protection from Stalking Bill is set to be enacted during this Assembly mandate. The collapse of the Stormont institutions in 2017 has been a major factor in delay in this crucial legislation.

“The North is the only region on these islands where stalking is not a specific criminal offence. In Scotland stalking has been an offence for over a decade now. As is too often the case, we are playing catch up,” she said.

The bill has been moved by the Justice Minister Naomi Long due to the underuse of the Protection from Harassment (NI) Order 1997 and that legislation’s failure to include a specific offence of stalking.

Mrs. Long told the Assembly in February that stalking consisted of ‘fixated, obsessive, unwanted and repeated behaviour’ and that the new bill would also create an offence of threatening and abusive behaviour that could be triggered by a single offence.

Under the new bill the maximum penalty upon conviction in a Magistrates’ Court will be 12 months’ imprisonment or a fine up to £5,000.The maximum penalty on conviction on indictment in the Crown Court is 10 years’ imprisonment or a fine, or both.

The jail terms for the offence of threatening or abusive behaviour will be 12 months’ imprisonment following conviction in a Magistrates’ Court and five years’ imprisonment upon indictment in the Crown Court.

The new legislation will also introduce stalking protection orders that can be used by police prior to conviction to disrupt stalking behaviour.

Miss Durkan said the new bill will ultimately save lives.

“I would like to remind as many people as possible to participate and share their views. It is particularly important for those who have been affected by stalking to have input in shaping the legislation.

“It is hoped that this new law will ultimately save lives and make positive differences to those who have suffered as a result of unwanted, persistent or obsessive attention that too often escalates into psychological torture. Stalking may take different forms, and we need to ensure the legislation offers robust protection to those in need. Too many victims have not been able to avail of protection under the existing law. The Protection of Harassment Order 1997 has now been in place for almost a quarter of a century.

“The world we live in has changed dramatically. In 1997 nobody knew about social media, and mobile phones were not widely used. In today’s world these are common tools used for stalking.”

“Stalking can affect people of any gender, age, background, but evidence suggests that women and girls being disproportionately affected by such behaviour.”

The closing date for consultation responses is Friday, April 16, 2021. Email [email protected]