Stalking Protection Orders
Hannah Walsh, who obtained the first Stalking Protection Order for her client, explains what Stalking Protection Orders are and how to get one.
What is stalking?
Annex A of the Home Office Guidance on the Stalking Protection Act observes that there is no legal definition of stalking, but that the police and CPS have adopted the following description: “a pattern of unwanted, fixated and obsessive behaviour which is intrusive. It can include harassment that amounts to stalking or stalking that causes fear of violence or serious alarm or distress in the victim."
Stalking affects people of all ages, and victims come from a wide range of backgrounds — stalking is not restricted to public figures and celebrities. Stalkers are commonly ex-intimate partners. However, professionals, acquaintances, complete strangers, and customers can all be perpetrators or victims. It is abundantly clear that anyone can be affected by stalking.
The perpetrator’s behaviours may appear ‘harmless’ and may in themselves seem lawful, particularly if considered in isolation rather than as part of a pattern of behaviour.
What acts are considered stalking?
Section 2A of the Protection from Harassment Act provides a non-exhaustive list of “acts associated with stalking”:
- Following a person
- Contacting or attempting to contact a person by any means
- Publishing any statement or other material relating or purporting to relate to a person or purporting to originate from a person
- Monitoring the use by a person of the internet, email or any other form of electronic communications
- Loitering in any place (whether public or private)
- Interfering with any property in the possession of a person
- Watching or spying on a person
The police will need to prove that the defendant has carried out “acts associated with stalking” and presents “risks associated with stalking” — which is not the same as proving the criminal offence of stalking. Following, loitering, repeated communications, intercepting messages, hacking into social media accounts, leaving notes on cars, and sending unwanted gifts are all acts that can be associated with stalking – but the facts will always be case-specific.
Stalking Protection Act 2019
In January 2020 the Stalking Protection Act 2019 came into force. It is an Act with a clear purpose: to give the police greater powers to seek to restrain stalking-related behaviour. Since we helped a police force to obtain the very first order on the day that the legislation came into force, we have represented the police in over 200 applications for Stalking Protection Orders (SPOs).
Whilst the Act itself deals only with the introduction of the Stalking Protection Act, it comes during a time of growing and widespread awareness of issues associated with stalking, domestic abuse, and violence against women and girls.
What is a stalking protection order?
Stalking protection orders (SPOs) are designed to protect victims from risky stalking behaviour. The police can apply for an order from the very outset of an investigation. An SPO will impose restrictions and conditions on a perpetrator’s behaviour. Importantly, the police do not need to prove that the perpetrator has committed a criminal offence. Rather, the police need to prove that the perpetrator has committed “acts associated with stalking”.
How to get a stalking protection order
SPOs afford protection to people who are victims of behaviour associated with stalking. The police can apply for an SPO at any stage during an investigation and are, in fact, required to consider applying for an SPO at the outset of every single stalking investigation.
A clear and coherent policy about the use of SPOs, as well as the host of available protective orders, is an absolutely essential part of any police force’s public protection and violence against women and girls plan. That policy needs to be backed up by the regular training of officers and staff and then good processes to follow. Officers and staff need to know the options available. There need to be streamlined processes with the support of legal services to ensure swift, appropriate, and successful court action.
The criteria for applying for an order are set out in section 1(1) of the Act. The police should consider applying for an order where:
- There are acts associated with stalking;
- The respondent poses a risk of stalking to a person; and
- There is reasonable cause to believe the proposed order is necessary to protect the other person from that risk.
Importance of early application of stalking protection order
Acts associated with stalking will often escalate in number and severity. The longer the behaviour continues, the greater and more immediate the risk associated with that behaviour becomes. The benefit of applying for an SPO at a very early stage, when the police become aware of the behaviour, is that the perpetrator’s behaviour can be controlled and monitored. Breach of an SPO is a criminal offence for which an offender can be imprisoned.
Being able to recognise acts associated with stalking as early as possible is crucial to allow early intervention. Early recognition has to be accompanied by early action. Knowing your options in terms of civil protective orders will mean that measures can be sought from the outset to protect the victim.
From the applications that have been progressed so far, it is clear that the issue of stalking is widespread and can occur in any scenario. The impact of stalking can be life-changing to a victim and as such SPOs are a vital safeguarding tool for forces to consider.