A bill that introduces new stand-alone offences of stalking and non-fatal strangulation has completed its passage through the Oireachtas, and will now go to the President for signing.
The bill also increases the maximum penalty for assault causing harm – one of the most commonly prosecuted violent offences – from five years to ten years.
The Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill contains measures targeting violent and organised crime, violence against gardaí, and domestic, sexual and gender-based violence (DSGBV).
The Department of Justice says that non-fatal strangulation can be a precursor to murder in domestic-abuse situations.
It adds that, while any person can be a victim of stalking or harassment, they are also common behaviours in domestic-abuse situations.
The new stalking offence is defined in terms of causing either a fear of violence, or serious alarm and distress that has a substantial impact on a person’s day-to-day activities.
The bill also provides for the making of civil orders restraining stalking conduct.
The department describes these as “an important first step” in addressing stalking behaviour, as they do not require the level of proof associated with the criminal offences.
The measures also ensure the protection of the identity of alleged victims of harassment and stalking in court proceedings.
The bill will extend the restriction on alleged perpetrators carrying out their own cross-examinations of alleged victims to a wider range of offences than at present (sexual offences), such as offences that include violence, coercive control, stalking and harassment.
“For too long, sinister behaviours have been difficult to prosecute in this country,” said Minister for Justice Helen McEntee (pictured).
“Victims of stalking and harassment, who are all too often victims of intimate partner or domestic abuse, have been unable to access the necessary protections,” she added.
Protection for gardaí
The provisions aimed at providing better protection for gardaí, and strengthening the laws designed to tackle serious and organised crime, include:
- Increasing the maximum sentence for assaulting or obstructing a police officer from seven to 12 years. The offence also covers attacks on emergency-service workers,
- Increasing the maximum sentence for conspiracy to murder from the current penalty of ten years to life imprisonment.