The Government has approved a new bill that will make stalking a criminal offence, and make it easier for people to obtain restraining orders against stalkers.
The Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2022 will now be brought before the Oireachtas, and the Department of Justice says that it is expected to become law in the autumn.
Under the proposals, courts will be able to issue civil restraining orders against stalkers. The department says that such orders do not require a criminal prosecution, and are easier for victims to obtain.
“The new orders also go further than what is possible under domestic-violence legislation in terms of who an order can be made against (i.e. not just close relationships), and the kind of conduct that can be prohibited by the court,” said Helen McEntee (Minister for Justice, pictured).
She described the bill as a “significant step” in ensuring that there was ‘zero tolerance’ in Irish society for domestic, sexual, and gender-based violence.
The proposed legislation will also increase the maximum sentence for assault causing harm from five years to ten years, allow life sentences for conspiracy to murder, make stalking and non-fatal strangulation stand-alone offences, and expand the existing harassment offence.
‘Serious alarm and distress’
The new offence of stalking 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 covered includes following, communicating, impersonating, and interfering with property or pets. The department stresses, however, that this list is not exhaustive.
The new stalking 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.
The maximum penalty for this offence will be ten years.
The bill also provides for the creation of two stand-alone offences for non-fatal strangulation, which the minister described as “a common feature of domestic abuse”, and “a strong predictor of further violent offences”.
The first offence provides that where an assault involves strangulation it has, without any other harm being shown, the same penalties as assault causing harm, which is being increased to ten years.
The second offence provides that where the strangulation causes serious harm, the maximum penalty is life imprisonment. This is similar to the existing offence of causing serious harm.
The department cited research showing that strangulation was the second-most common method of killing in adult female homicides (after stabbing). It added that non-fatal strangulation was frequently used as a tool of coercion, and was often accompanied by threats to kill.