Tougher powers to curb stalking and harassment that blight the lives of thousands of people will be brought forward under new legislation from a Conservative MP.
Respected backbencher Sarah Wollaston, who chairs the Commons Health Committee, wants to tackle gaps in stalking laws that can leave victims vulnerable to abuse while police build a case against the suspected perpetrator.
Stalking is a difficult crime to prosecute – despite being made a specific criminal offence in 2012 – as the term is not legally defined, leaving space for differences in interpretation over persistent calls, unwanted gifts or unexpected visits.
Victims are often let down by under-recording, inconsistent services and poor understanding in the criminal justice system, with “worrying failing at every stage”, according to a recent report by the police and prosecution service watchdogs.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced plans for civil protection orders in December last year but no date has been set for their implementation, prompting fears the idea had been dropped.
Under the new proposals – which are understood to have government backing – police would apply for a stalking protection order through a magistrate, which would restrict tormentors from contacting or approaching their victims while police gather evidence.
Perpetrators could also be ordered to seek mental health treatment or attend rehabilitation during this time to stop them from reoffending. Breaches of the order would carry a prison sentence of up to five years.
Ms Wollaston told The Independent: “Almost anyone can become a victim of stalking. It is a crime which devastates people’s lives causing both psychological and sometimes physical harm, including murder.
“In a digital age there are ever more ways that stalkers target their victims and those around them, causing fear and isolation.
“There is currently a gap in the law, especially for those stalked by strangers and my bill aims…