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Stalking to become a standalone offence – What exactly is it?

By: Karen Tobin and Jules O'Toole | Posted on: 15 Sep 2022

Legislation is currently underway to create a specific stand-alone offence for stalking as part of the Governments zero tolerance approach to domestic, sexual and gender based violence.  The Bill commenced is currently before Government for review and implementation.

In this article, Karen Tobin, Family Law Partner and Jules O’Toole, Intern, CKT look at the definition of stalking, the proposed changes and provide some useful information for victims of stalking.

Current Legislation

A Stalking offence is brought before the courts by way of a Garda Investigation in the context of harassment proceedings as a criminal application.

What is Stalking?

Stalking is characterised as any conduct that either puts the victim in fear of violence or causes them serious alarm and distress, having a significant impact on their day-to-day activities.  Stalking can occur in the following ways;

  • Following, watching, pestering, or communicating with a person making threats of violence, either directly or indirectly
  • Interference with a persons property, or their pets, or loitering in the vicinity of a person which creates fear
  • Reputational damage: engaging in malicious or inappropriate references to a person on social media platforms, taking pictures or recordings without a persons consent, sharing private images of a personal nature

Stalking can have a devasting, lifelong psychological impact on the victim.

The new legislation provides that stalking can be single act, it does not need to be persistent or repeated. The legislation will allow for victims to have a stalker held accountable when they become aware of stalking after it has occurred.   

What will the legislation change?

  • It will create a stand-alone offence of stalking embellishing the seriousness of the offence.
  • The courts will be permitted to issue orders restraining stalking behaviours without a criminal conviction providing immediate protection to the victims.
  • It will strengthen procedural protections for alleged victims of stalking during the court process.

What should a victim do?

Stalking behaviour can escalate very quickly. 

Stalking behaviour should immediately be reported to your local Garda Station.

It is important to keep a diary of any stalking behaviours you believe are being perpetrated against you, this will be important evidence in both a criminal or civil case.

Make a personal safety plan see Stalking Prevention, Awareness and Resource Centre: Safety Strategies

If stalking is taking place online, minimise your online information, change your email and passwords regularly, review your privacy settings and avoid public forums.  For more information visit getsafeonline.org

Conclusion

The proposed legislation of a stand-alone offence recognises the seriousness of the crime and its impact on victims.   Having a legislative definition provides clarity to victims, the courts and legal practitioners as to what exactly constitutes stalking behaviour.  The introduction of restraining orders will provide victims protection without a criminal prosecution, and this will give confidence to victims to report stalking offences.

Karen Tobin is a Family Law Partner amd Mediator at CKT. Her experience focuses on divorce, separation, civil partnership, nullity, surrogacy, custody and access disputes, maintenance and domestic violence disputes. If you have a query in relation to this article, you can contact Karen on 021 4626900.

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