There have been reports this morning that an independent parliamentary enquiry into the law which protects victims of stalking will deliver a conclusion today that the current legislation is not fit for purpose. The enquiry will suggest that there be a fundamental reform by the implementation of new legislation which will see stalking be made a criminal offence, with further proposals that there be a national register of stalkers, a bill of rights for victims and training for police officers and CPS prosecutors. The question is, however, as to how effective new legislation will be and indeed what is defective with the present system.
It is interesting to note that the former head of the department within New Scotland Yard which deals with stalking believed that the present legislation, that is the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, was sufficient. All he called for was some tweaking of that legislation as regards the right of entry into suspects’ houses. He is quoted in the press as describing the current legislation as “the best in the world in my opinion’; stating that it is not broken, so there is no need to fix it.
Indeed, it could be argued that sometimes legislation is enacted which although satiating the public’s demand (or perceived demand) to deal with a problem that is highlighted in the press, in actuality achieves little in the world of criminal sentencing. You may recall, certainly locally, recent cries to amend the legislation as regards the grant of bail following the commission of an offence of murder by an individual who enjoyed bail. The fact is that the law as regards bail works and operates very well on a daily basis and, albeit some people do offend whilst on bail, it does not necessarily mean that the whole system needs to be reformed.
Turning back to the question of stalking, there is no doubt that this is an offence which is extremely distressing to the victim and indeed sometimes leads to more serious offences such as murder and rape. Indeed, one victim of stalking described it recently as a form of ‘mental rape’.
However, the fact that an offence is serious and is in the public domain at the forefront of people’s minds, does not necessarily mean that there need be a reform of the whole system. If there is to be a review of the law then careful and considered review ought to be undertaken rather than an endeavour to hit the headlines. There are many pieces of legislation which are under-used despite the view that they would address a problem.