Justice Minister, Claire Sugden has outlined her intention to review the current legislation in relation to stalking in Northern Ireland.
Speaking during an Assembly motion on the issue Claire Sugden said: “Stalking and harassment are particularly insidious crimes and I am clear that any such incidents should be subject to the full rigour of the law. I commend Brenda Hale for bringing forward this important motion and for her bravery in speaking about her personal experiences.
“The nature of stalking can be obsessive with offenders going to extreme lengths to contact and monitor their victims using a range of means. Stalking conduct can be prolonged, persistent and intrusive. The actions of a stalker can appear innocuous to outside observers, but are intensely disturbing to the person being stalked and harassed.
“I have heard first-hand the experiences of victims of this behaviour and it is clear that the effects of it can be devastating.”
Continuing the Minister said: “As Justice Minister, I am keen to ensure that the criminal law in Northern Ireland is fit for purpose and that we learn from the experiences from other jurisdictions. I have already asked my officials to review the existing laws around stalking both here and elsewhere and to report to me on the need for the introduction of additional legislation to safeguard victims of stalking in this jurisdiction.
“Although this work is at an early stage, they have already begun to engage with officials in England and Wales and Scotland to identify the impact of these new offences in terms of prosecutions and convictions.
“I note, however, that the Home Office have concluded a consultation on the introduction of a Stalking Protection Order to supplement their offence, and that responses are currently being considered. Proposals to augment such a relatively new law might suggest that gaps have been identified in how the stalking offence operates in England and Wales, and reinforces the need to ensure that any changes to the law in this area are carefully considered and properly developed.
“This is such an important issue that we need to ensure we take the time to get it right.”
In conclusion the Minister said: “I am committed to ensuring that the most vulnerable in society are protected. The work I have already directed my officials to undertake to examine the need for new legislation to protect and safeguard victims of stalking in Northern Ireland is clear indication of that.”