Stalking protection orders introduced in Northern Ireland
Stalking protection orders can now be granted by the Magistrates Courts to protect victims of stalking from an immediate risk of harm.
In effect from 19 October 2023, the new Stalking Protection Orders — also known as SPOs — will allow police to intervene early in an investigation into stalking, prior to any conviction, in an effort to disrupt and prevent stalking behaviours before they escalate.
Under the legislation now in force, the police have the power to apply to the Court for an SPO if it appears that a person has carried out acts associated with stalking and there is reasonable cause to believe the SPO is necessary to protect another person. This takes the burden off the victim to make any Court application.
The Orders will put restrictions on perpetrators, for example:
- prohibiting them from entering a specified area;
- making contact with the victim by any means;
- making contact with the victim via a third party;
- referring to the victim on social media (direct or indirect);
- making vexatious Court applications which reference the victim;
- making recordings/surveillance of the victim.
The Order will last for a minimum of two years and not more than three years.
It is a criminal offence to breach the terms of an Order, the maximum sentence for a breach is five years’ imprisonment.
The new Orders are introduced through the Protection from Stalking Act (Northern Ireland) 2022, which also introduced the new offences of stalking and threatening or abusive behaviour in April 2022. Since the legislation was introduced in April 2022, the PSNI have arrested 230 alleged stalkers and charged 119 up until the end of last month.
Richard Pengelly CB, Permanent Secretary at the Department of Justice, said:
“I welcome the introduction of these new orders. Stalking can have a devastating impact on victims, and this new measure will offer protection for victims of stalking from the very start of an investigation.
Importantly, the onus is taken away from the victim to apply for these orders as the police will apply directly to the courts.
I am grateful to justice partners in the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Public Prosecution Service and Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service for their work in bringing stalking protection orders into operation.”
What qualifies as stalking?
Stalking involves persistently following someone. It does not necessarily mean following them in person and can include watching, spying or forcing contact with the victim through any means, including through social media.
If stalking involves the fear of violence or serious alarm or distress it is a more serious offence. The stalking must involve two or more occasions that have caused the victim to fear violence will be used against them or if it has had a substantial adverse effect on their day-to-day activities, even where the fear is not explicitly of violence.
Evidence that the stalking has caused this level of fear could include the victim:
- changing their route to work, work patterns or employment to avoid contact with the stalker;
- putting additional home security measures in place;
- moving home;
- suffering physical or mental ill-health.
If you have any queries regarding the new procedures you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org