Victims of stalkers can seek civil restraining orders against their harassers without criminal prosecution under sweeping new legislation.
The move, welcomed by victims of stalking and action groups, will make it easier for victims to seek protection sooner and more easily.
It is one of several measures that are to become law in the autumn. Others include making stalking and non-fatal strangulation separate offences, increasing the maximum sentence for assault – one of the most common charges in domestic violence cases – from five to ten years and expanding the existing offenses of harassment.
By using civil injunctions, the government hopes to catch stalkers earlier before the stalking gets worse – as seen in some criminal cases.
The new, separate criminal offense of stalking encompasses all behavior that either induces a fear of violence in the victim or causes them serious fear and distress and has a significant impact on their daily life.
It will cover a wide range of acts – from tracking a victim, communicating with them or impersonating them, to tampering with their property or pets.
Stalking can be committed in a single act and does not have to be continuous or repeated. Situations in which the victim only finds out about the stalking actions afterwards are also recorded.
The maximum sentence if convicted is 10 years.
Attorney General Helen McEntee announced the new measures, saying the civil injunctions would allow for earlier intervention to protect victims.
“Stalking is an extremely serious and intrusive crime that can cause devastating psychological distress,” she said.
“The evidence (from other countries) is that the introduction of a particular stalking offense leads to greater awareness of the crime and an increase in reported and ultimately prosecuted offences. So we do that.”
The new Criminal Justice Bill 2022 will come before the Oireachtas as a priority for the resumption of the Dáil and is expected to come into force in the autumn.
Among those who support the introduction of civil injunctions is Una Ring, who was the victim of stalking. She said early action against a stalker could “avoid a lot of fear and heartache.”
Women’s Aid executive director Sarah Benson said the group broadly welcomes the plans and is now examining the substantive details.
“We are particularly pleased with the introduction of injunctions without the need for a criminal conviction, as this was an omission that we were very concerned about when Coco’s Law was passed,” she said.
“Such restraining orders are a tool that victims/survivors have long requested to protect them from harassment and harm.”
The bill also provides for the creation of two separate offenses for non-fatal strangulation. The first carries a maximum sentence of 10 years, while the second, covering cases of causing serious harm, has a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
After stabbing, strangulation is the most common method of killing adult females worldwide.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/news/new-law-to-help-protect-victims-of-stalking-at-early-stage-41888713.html New law for the early protection of stalking victims