Move to strengthen law on stalking
Ministers today announced plans to create a new offence to deal with stalking in Scotland - giving prosecutors greater scope to convict those who seek to prey on unsuspecting members of the public.
In Scotland, people engaging in behaviour constituting stalking and harassment are currently prosecuted using the common law offence of 'breach of the peace'.
However an appeal court ruling last year stating that breach of the peace requires a 'public element' may make it more difficult for prosecutors to take action.
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill is concerned that in some instances stalking will not always have this 'public element' and that stalking via telephone calls, texting, email, social networking sites like Facebook, or which takes place in an isolated place can be difficult to prosecute.
Moves are now under way to create a new offence of engaging in 'threatening, alarming or distressing behaviour' which will give victims greater legal protection, whilst ensuring prosecutors have the full range of powers available to them to bring a conviction.
Announcing plans to lodge an amendment to the forthcoming Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Bill, Mr MacAskill said:
"Stalking can be a deeply frightening crime for victims and we want to ensure that the small minority of perpetrators who engage in this criminal activity are brought to justice.
"We want to send out the message loud and clear that if you carry out this offence, there will be no escape, there will be no wriggle room to exploit, and you will be met with by the full force of law."
The new offence of engaging in 'threatening, alarming or distressing behaviour' will state that 'it is an offence for a person to behave in such a manner that a reasonable person would be likely to fear for the safety of any person on account of the behaviour, or be alarmed or distressed by the behaviour'
The term 'behaviour' is wide, to ensure prosecutors have greater scope to convict, and covers things said, as well as things done, and the conduct of the individual - such as repeatedly following or watching someone.
The proposed offence will cover a wide range of behaviours constituting stalking, including the sending of threatening or harassing emails, text messages or phone calls, or persistent following, pursuing or spying upon a person. The offence is not however limited in scope to stalking related activity and will ensure that prosecutors can take action in other areas, such as incidents of domestic abuse that take place in isolated locations or where a public element is not present.
The case referred to in the above where it was stated that the offence of breach of the peace requires a 'public element' was Harris v HMA: http://www.scotcourts.gov.uk/opinions/2009HCJAC80.html