Thousands of women in this country, and some men, have been the victims of stalking – or “slow rape” as it has been called. Up to one in five people will experience stalking in their lifetime, sometimes leading to murder, yet at present there is no specific stalking offence. That is why we have a responsibility to change the law and change the culture of our criminal justice system, and why I tabled amendments to the Protection of Freedoms Bill at both Committee and Report Stage to create a new offence of stalking. Despite the success of this change in the law in Scotland, which has led to the prosecution of over 400 alleged stalkers in the first 11 months, Ministers said there was not enough evidence.
Since then, an excellent report has been published following an Independent Parliamentary Inquiry into Stalking Law Reform, and the Government consultation has concluded. I was delighted to read in yesterday’s press that the Prime Minister is planning to introduce a criminal offence together with much needed improved training and guidance for the police and Crown Prosecution Service. I warmly welcome this move.
However the key will be to ensure that stalking is taken more seriously by the criminal justice system, therefore proposals must allow stalking cases to be tried in the Crown Court and ensure higher sentences can be given.
I also very much hope that Ministers will not wait until the next session but will take the opportunity to introduce the changes by amending the Protection Of Freedoms Bill which will have its
Third Reading on 12th March. This Bill is about extending the freedom of citizens, so it is entirely appropriate that it should extend the freedom of thousands of women, and some men, to live in greater security.
I have to say that I profoundly disagree with those who say that the Government should wait until it introduces a new Criminal Justice Bill in the next session. It is not clear how long the legislative process of such a Bill would take, and in the meantime women who need better protection are at risk. So I would urge Ministers to take advantage of the current Bill which should receive Royal Assent within a month, thus ensuring that the criminal offence can be introduced and the first steps to making fundamental changes in attitudes towards the offence and behaviour of stalking.
Baroness Jan Royall of Blaisdon is Labour’s Leader and Shadow Equalities Minister in the Lords