Stalking and non-fatal strangulation to become standalone offences

Stalking and non-fatal strangulation to become standalone offences

Helen McEntee

Stalking and non-fatal strangulation will become standalone offences under legislation announced by justice minister Helen McEntee today.

Though both stalking and non-fatal strangulation are already crimes, the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill will make the law “clearer and stronger”, the Department of Justice has said.

The new offences form part of the government’s zero-tolerance approach to domestic, sexual and gender-based violence and will be key actions in the third national strategy which is currently being finalised.

The new bill, which is now being drafted, will:

  • amend section 10 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 to introduce a standalone stalking offence, and amend the existing harassment offence;
  • empower the courts to issue orders restraining stalking behaviours without a criminal prosecution;
  • strengthen procedural protections for alleged victims of stalking during the court process; and
  • introduce a standalone offence of non-fatal strangulation.

The new stalking offence will cover 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. This includes but is not limited to following, communicating, impersonating and interfering with property or pets.

The offence can be committed by a single act and 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.

In sentencing, a court must consider as an aggravating factor and increase the sentence if the person has previously been convicted of offences against the victim, such as making threats to kill.

The bill also proposes that a court may make an order restraining stalking behaviours separately from a criminal prosecution. These orders would require a lower burden of proof, and can be applied for by the affected person themselves or by gardaí on their behalf.

Breach of an order would be, in itself, a criminal offence carrying a maximum of one year imprisonment. It may also be a basis for a criminal prosecution for a stalking or harassment offence.

The revised harassment offence is expanded to cover any persistent conduct, not just the likes of following or watching, causing a serious interference with peace and privacy, or alarm, distress or harm.

The proposals on non-fatal strangulation aim to ensure that assaults involving strangulation or choking can be prosecuted as a serious offence, even if there are no observable injuries. Two new offences will be created.

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 currently carries a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment.

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.

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