Alliance Justice Minister Naomi Long MLA has introduced legislative proposals for a stand-alone Protection from Stalking Bill to the Assembly.
The 20-clause Bill will create a specific offence of stalking and include provision for the introduction of Stalking Protection Orders to Northern Ireland.
Naomi Long said: “Today’s introduction of the Protection from Stalking Bill is a major step forward for victims of this insidious crime. I have listened to the terrifying and debilitating experiences of victims and am talking action to strengthen the law to protect them.
“I want to pay tribute to every victim who has shared their story in helping us shape this Bill. I fully appreciate the devastating effect stalking can have on its victims, and how manipulative and persistent a stalker can be. I am committed to ensuring they have the protection of the law they need and deserve to feel safe.
“Since becoming Justice Minister, I have identified progressing stalking legislation as a key priority for me and for my Department. I want to send a clear message stalking in all its forms will not be tolerated in society.
“This Bill will create a specific offence of stalking that will address behaviour or acts associated with stalking, something the current law does not do effectively. The new legislation will be better focused on stalking behaviour and will have greater and more appropriate penalties and protections than are available under current harassment legislation.
“The introduction of Stalking Protection Orders will be a key tool for police. These Orders will enable them to intervene, prior to any conviction, to address stalking behaviours before they become entrenched or escalate in severity, and to protect victims when there is an immediate risk of harm.”
The Bill will create a specific offence of stalking that recognizes the experiences of victims and the behaviours associated with stalking. It also includes the offence of threatening and abusive behaviour that can be made out after a single incident. The Bill provides all victims of stalking will have automatic eligibility for special measures assistance, such as the use of live links or screens at court, when giving evidence in proceedings.
The introduction of Stalking Protection Orders will provide protection to a person at risk of stalking by way of an application to the court by police if it appears a person has carried out acts associated with stalking or poses a risk associated with stalking to another person, and there is reasonable cause to believe the Stalking Protection Order is necessary to protect another person from such risk.
The Minister concluded: “This is a significant piece of legislation which will help protect many people across Northern Ireland from living in the fear this kind of crime creates.”