By Barrister M. A. Muid Khan
“Stalkers torment their victims and can make everyday life almost unbearable. We are doubling the maximum sentences available to the courts so these awful crimes can be properly punished.” — (Justice Minister Sam Gyimah, United Kingdom, 6th January 2017,)
With a view to ensure that the punishment of stalking reflects the severity of the crime and its damaging consequences on victims, the British Government has declared to wage a legal war against the stalkers in the UK. The Government has planned that the maximum custodial sentence available to the courts for stalking will increase from 5 to 10 years and from 7 to 14 years if the offence was racially or religiously aggravated.
Stalking victims reported numerous, severe, life-changing effects from being stalked, including physical, social, and psychological harm. They typically experience mood, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress symptoms that require prompt evaluation and treatment.
What is stalking?
Question might arise, what the definition of stalking? The simple answer is there is no distinct definition of stalking. It can occur through a variety of different things, for example someone may be following someone continually, sending them text messages or calling them on the phone leaving abusive messages. In addition, many types of conduct could fall within the definition of harassment. In the context of stalking the following forms of conduct would be likely to constitute harassment: i.e. Telephone calls, Letters, Continually following someone, Text messages etc.
Although female victims usually report greater levels of fear, studies have found that males subjected to stalking experience similar symptoms to those reported by their female counterparts. Therefore in this article an attempt would be made to demonstrate how stalking could made the victims suffer from a wide range of psychological, physical, occupational, social and general lifestyle effects as a consequence of being stalked in the light of two ground breaking stories.
A female stalker
In the first incident, the victim was a male. It was reported on 27th August 2016, in various national and international newspapers. A Briton lady stalker was jailed for five years for stalking. She has filed more than 130 false police reports against her ex-lover including false allegations of rape and acid attacks. She also implicated a man she dated more than 10 years previously in a string of crimes. This led to police to come to his home 42 times upon false allegation. Among the fictitious claims levelled against the 45-year-old were rape and acid attacks. She used the details of 60 other people to implicate her former lover. She has also subjected two women who had dated the man to online campaigns described as ‘threatening and traumatic’. At the Isleworth Crown Court, she was found guilty of three counts of stalking involving serious alarm or distress and two counts of perverting the course of justice.
A male stalker
In the second incident, the victim was a female. This news was also published on 16th December 2016 in several national and international newspapers. In this incident, a Birmingham man was sentenced four years, four months for stalking. Having been issued with a restraining order after being charged in July 2016 with a stalking offence against the victim; the perpetrator went on to systematically breach the order multiple times – in fact on an almost daily basis. He sent photographs of himself to the female victim, along with multiple text messages. Despite numerous inquiries, he took steps to evade police, including leaving London.
In the meantime, the harassment continued. It was reported that in one day he called the victim 50 times; and sent her 49 texts over a 24-hour period. Over the next month he continued to bombard her with further calls and texts; even using a family member’s phone on one occasion.
On one occasion, having identified her new home address, he waited for her outside the property and then followed the victim onto a bus, into a supermarket, around the shop and home again, before attempting to get into the property. Another time he attended her address and was caught by the victim staring through the letterbox and indicating he had been watching her. On a number of occasions he threatened to throw acid in her face if she went to police. Thankfully she ignored the threats and courageously came to Police to report the abuse. On 21, September 2016, he was arrested in the street in Wandsworth in relation to the various breaches of his order and for stalking. He was charged the following day, he was sentenced by the Kingston Crown Court for four years, four months for stalking.
It was reported by the Crown Prosecution Services that i n 2015, a total of 1,029 people were convicted of the two offences (194 people of the stalking offence and 835 of putting people in fear of violence) in the UK. The average custodial sentence for stalking was 14.1 months
UK Government’s future plan
The above two incidents demonstrate very clearly the common fact that the stalkers (whether male or female) who stalk victims and devastate their lives can be sent to jail for longer. The British Government felt that it is the responsibility of the Government to implement tough new legislation to make sure that the punishment fits the seriousness of the crime. Hence Justice Minister Sam Gyimah announces plans to double the maximum sentence for stalking. This means that the maximum custodial sentence available to the courts for stalking will increase from 5 to 10 years.
Present UK legislation
The most common piece of legislation which can be used in the UK at present against an individual who is stalking another individual is the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.The Protection from Harassment Act can be used both in the civil and criminal courts.
The Act makes it unlawful to pursue a course of conduct which amounts to harassment of another and which the defendant knows or ought to know amounts to harassment of another.
On the 25th November 2012 sections 111 & 112 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 brought into force and create new offences of Stalking. The new offences became effective under sections 2A and 4A of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 Act. Though there are only two new sections they actually create 3 new offences namely (a) s2A(1) “Stalking”, (b) s4A(1)(b)(i) “Stalking involving fear of violence”, and (c) s4A(b)(ii) “Stalking involving serious alarm or distress”.
The victims of stalking have welcomed the fact that Stalking has been recognised as a specific crime separate from Harassment. This will increase the likelihood of Police and CPS taking action in cases of harassment/Stalking which might in the past have been ignored. Under this Act, s2A carry the maximum sentence for six months imprisonment & ss4 & 4A carry the maximum sentence of five years imprisonment.
If someone fears that he/she is being stalked, he/she should get in contact with the local police force, start maintaining a diary, inform as many people around him/her who are close to them, check their home security and avoid being alone and reconsider your daily routes
If a victim starts a diary, he/she must ensure that they record every incident in detail. The victims should also try and record anything which they think may be useful to the police as evidence.
If the victims feel that their personal safety is at risk then their complaint will be taken seriously by the Police. There are various laws which can help the victims which are why it is imperative that the victims get in contact with the police as soon as possible to prevent any of this behaviour happening further.
The victims should ensure that everything in their home which has the potential to be locked such as doors and windows are fitted with locks and that all of the keys can be accounted for. Also individuals’ daily routines are likely to be known by a stalker so it is a good idea to vary these to reduce the chance of being attacked.
If a victim contacts his/her local police concerning an individual stalking, then the police are most likely to seek a criminal conviction through the Protection from Harassment Act.
People being stalked should never fear telling people through embarrassment as the more people who are aware of it the more chance there is of protecting your safety. The UK Government Ministers say the plan to increase the maximum custodial sentence available to the courts for stalking from 5 to 10 years will help make sure the punishment reflects the severity of the crime and its damaging consequences on victims. The government will try to win their legal war against the stalkers by implementing the change through an amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill, currently going through Parliament. The move will make it possible for the British courts to impose longer sentences in the most serious cases of stalking.
[M.A. Muid Khan is a Barrister of the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn, Chartered Legal Executive Lawyer of CILEX. He was declared as the Best Human Rights Lawyer of England & Wales by Bar Council, Law Society & CILEX. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org]