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Rise in stalking prosecutions

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stalking prosecutions, CPS, ACPO‘A message to both victims and criminals about how seriously we are taking these types of offences’.

The CPS and ACPO have agreed on a protocol for better victim support in cases of stalking as CPS figures show an increase in prosecutions under new harassment laws.

The figures come as the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) launch a new protocol to ensure consistency of approach in dealing with all forms of stalking behaviour.

Figures indicate prosecutions for all stalking and harassment offences, using both new and older legislation, have increased by more than 20 per cent in 2013-14 (from 8,648 in 2012-13 to 10,535 last year).

Breaches of restraining and non-molestation orders, the vast majority of which relate to domestic abuse cases and can involve stalking-related behaviours, have also seen a 14.6 per cent rise in prosecutions brought to court in 2013-14: from 15,838 to 18,149.

The Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, said: “I am pleased that prosecutors are making effective use of new stalking laws in order to protect victims and put their stalkers before the courts where previously, in some cases, we were unable to do so.

“These new offences enable us to bring people to court potentially before they risk going on to commit more serious crimes,” she added.

“The rise in prosecutions sends a message to both victims and criminals about how seriously we are taking these types of offences.”

The number of cases are expected to grow as public confidence in the system improves and victims feel more able to come forward and seek help.

It is anticipated that figures will also increase further as cyber-stalking offences become more prevalent.

The stalking laws introduced in November 2012 have previously been criticised for failing to produce prosecutions. This had largely been blamed on a lack of training and police understanding of the new legislation.

The new ‘Protocol on the Appropriate Handling of Stalking Offences‘, which has been jointly drafted and agreed by the CPS and ACPO, focuses strongly on the needs of stalking victims.

Police and prosecutors must ensure that the victim has the opportunity to provide a Victim Personal Statement to the court and is able to read this out personally should they wish; fully investigate the reasons behind any victim withdrawing a complaint, ensuring it is not the result of pressure from others; and ensure that victims are consulted on issues such as bail and restraining orders.

The protocol also instructs prosecutors to apply, where possible, for restraining orders on both conviction and acquittal in order to protect the ongoing safety and security of victims.

Imposing restraining orders on acquittal can add further protection for victims where the likelihood of abuse is considered ‘beyond the balance of probabilities’.

This is a lower standard of proof than the usual ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ often required in criminal convictions.

Harry Fletcher, director of the Digital-Trust and a leading stalking campaigner said: “It is important that the police and CPS listen to victims however, we can still learn how to improve on the low prosecution rates by looking towards Scotland.”

“Whilst this is obviously an improvement, progress is still needed in order to get the new law properly understood,” he added.

“The appointment of a lead prosecutor and specific victim advocates are also vital for England and Wales.”

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