A new system of court orders to restrain stalking behaviour and protect victims has been introduced as part of a new Bill approved by Government.
The Criminal Justice Bill will allow the courts to be able to issue civil restraining orders against stalkers. The orders will not require a criminal prosecution and are easier for victims to obtain.
The wide-ranging Bill will also increase the maximum sentence for assault causing harm from five years to 10 years, allow life sentences for conspiracy to murder, make stalking and non-fatal strangulation standalone offences, and expand the existing harassment offence.
The Bill will now be brought before the Oireachtas and is expected to become law in the Autumn.
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said: “Stalking is an extremely serious and intrusive crime that can cause devastating psychological distress.
“The evidence is that when a specific stalking offence is introduced, it leads to a greater awareness of the crime and an increase in the number of crimes reported and ultimately prosecuted – so we are doing that.
“But this legislation also includes an important system of civil orders to restrain stalking behaviour and protect victims. These orders allow earlier intervention and do not require a criminal prosecution.
“The new orders also go further than what is possible under domestic violence legislation in terms of who an order can be made against (not just close relationships) and the kind of conduct that can be prohibited by the court.”
The new stalking offence covers any conduct that either puts the victim in fear of violence or causes the victim serious alarm and distress that has a substantial adverse impact on their usual day-to-day activities.
A wide list of possible acts is included - such as following, communicating, impersonating, interfering with property or pets etc.
The new stalking offence can be committed by a single act – it does not need to be persistent or repeated. It also covers situations where the person finds out about some or all of the stalking acts afterwards.
The maximum penalty for this offence will be 10 years.
The Bill also provides for the creation of two standalone offences for non-fatal strangulation.
The first provides that where an assault involves strangulation it has, without any other harm being shown, the same penalties as an assault causing harm offence, which is being increased to 10 years.
The second offence provides that where the strangulation caused serious harm, the maximum penalty is life imprisonment. This is similar to the existing offence of causing serious harm.
Ms McEntee added, “Non-fatal strangulation is a common feature of domestic abuse and is a strong predictor of further violent offences. It can also be difficult to prosecute at an appropriate level of seriousness where there is no visible injury.
“The Garda Commissioner has specifically requested the introduction of a new offence, and it also reflects recent international practice. This proposal will help ensure that assaults involving strangulation are properly identified, charged and punished.”