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The Protection from Harassment Act 1997

The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 was originally introduced to deal with stalking but it did not specifically name the offence as that. Instead, it introduced two criminal offences of harassment:

  • pursuing a course of conduct amounting to harassment
  • putting a person in fear of violence

Problems with the 1997 Act

Campaigners, including the Protection Against Stalking charity, argued that the 1997 Act was not effective in dealing with stalking. The campaign led to an “Independent Parliamentary Inquiry” by the Justice Unions’ Parliamentary Group. Their report, published in February 2012, found that victims of stalking had a profound lack of confidence in the criminal justice system, and recommended that the 1997 Act be amended as part of a package of reforms.

The Coalition Government consulted in 2011-12 on whether there should be changes to the law, including a separate offence of stalking.

Two stalking offences introduced in England and Wales

The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 amended the 1997 Act and created two new offences of stalking:

  • stalking (section 2A) which is pursuing a course of conduct which amounts to harassment and which also amounts to stalking
  • stalking (section 4A) involving fear of violence or serious alarm or distress

The offences came into force on 25 November 2012. The maximum prison sentence for the more serious section 4A offence was doubled to ten years from April 2017.

In 2017-18, 1,616 prosecutions were started for stalking offences, up from 959 in 2016-17, an increase of almost 70 per cent.

New stalking protection orders

In December 2015, the Home Office published a consultation on whether to introduce a stalking protection order for cases of “stranger stalking”. The consultation closed on 29 February 2016. The Government published its response to the consultation in December 2016, promising that the Government would legislate to introduce stalking protection orders “as soon as Parliamentary time allows”.

In July 2017, Sarah Wollaston’s Private Members’ Bill, the Stalking Protection Bill 2017-19 was published, with Government support. It received second reading on 19 January 2018, and had its Committee stage on 9 July 2018. Remaining stages are scheduled for 23 November 2018.

The Bill would allow the police to apply to a magistrates’ court for a new civil Stalking Protection Order in England and Wales. This could impose both prohibitions and requirements on the perpetrator. Breach would be a criminal offence.


The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has published legal guidance on Stalking and Harassment. The College of Policing website has current guidance for the police on its Stalking and Harassment page and is working with the Home Office on new Authorised Professional Practice on harassment and stalking.

In September 2014, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and Association of Chief Police Officers (now the National Police Chiefs’ Council) launched a new protocol on handling stalking cases.

Help for victims

Victims can call the National Stalking and Harassment Helpline (0808 802 0300).

The Paladin (National Stalking Advocacy Service) website includes Advice for Victims and Guidance for Professionals.

Victim Support also provides information on stalking and harassment, and has a telephone information line, the Victims Information Service on 0808 168 9293.


Scotland introduced specific stalking offences two years before England and Wales, in the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010. Section 39 of the 2010 Act defines conduct which amounts to stalking by means of a list of behaviours. This includes following or attempting to contact the victim; monitoring electronic communications; watching and spying. It also includes a “catch all” “acting in any other way that a reasonable person would expect would cause (the victim) to suffer fear or alarm”.

The Scottish Government has information on support for stalking victims on the Stalking: Support pages of the website. Police Scotland has advice for victims on the stalking page of its website, including an online Stalking Form.

Victim Support Scotland has a helpline on 0345 6039213

People in Scotland can also contact the National Stalking Helpline on 0808 802 0300.

A backbench SNP MSP said that she will bring forward a Member’s Bill to introduce Stalking Protection Orders in Scotland.

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland has the Protection from Harassment (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 which is similar to Protection from Harassment Act 1997. However, it does not include specific stalking offences. Before the Northern Ireland Assembly was dissolved in January 2017, its Justice Committee conducted a Review of the Need for Stalking Legislation in Northern Ireland.

The Police Service Northern Ireland provides information on Harassment and Stalking, including a leaflet, Stalking and harassment: advice and information.

Victim Support Northern Ireland provides practical help and information for victims on their Help for victims: Stalking page. There have been recent calls for a change in the law.

Related Library briefing paper

The Library has published a paper on the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

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