What is stalking?

 There is no strict definition of stalking, but the legislation lists a number of behaviours usually associated with the act of 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,
  • loitering,
  • interfering with any property in the possession of a person,
  • watching or spying on a person.

The list is not exhaustive and nor is behaving in one of these ways necessarily classified as stalking, context is everything.

 What must the prosecution prove?

  • That there is a course of conduct
  • which constitutes harassment, and
  • the course of conduct amounts to stalking.

Additionally, if the offence involves a fear of violence it must be proven –

  • 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 whether he “ought to know”, 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.

If behaviour amounts to stalking and leads another to fear that violence will be used on at least two occasions, or if the conduct produces considerable alarm or distress that has a significant impact on a person’s day-to-day activities, it is an offence.

This may need them changing their usual route, relocating their residence, or altering their social activities. It could also indicate a shift in a person’s physical or emotional well-being.

Are there any defences?

 The defence must 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, in the case of a violence offence it is a defence if the course of conduct was reasonable for the protection of the defendant or another person, or for the protection of his or another’s property.

What sentence could I get?

The maximum term for stalking is six months in prison, whereas the maximum sentence for inducing fear of violence or extreme alarm or distress is ten years in prison (for an offence on or after 2 April 2017; 5 years for offences prior to that date).

Even if a defendant is found not guilty of the crime, a restraining order can be issued to protect the victim from further contact.