New offence of 'stalking' introduced
Amendments to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 came into force on 26 November 2012 which prohibit stalking, including by electronic means and impersonation.
The Protection of Freedoms Act has made the following amendments to sections 2A and 4 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, which will be of note to internet and media law practitioners:
• s2A now makes it an offence, punishable by up to 51 weeks imprisonment or a level 5 fine, for a person to pursue a course of conduct which both amounts to harassment in breach of s1(1) and stalking.
• s4A makes it an offence, punishable by up to five years imprisonment or a fine, for a person to pursue a course of conduct which amounts to stalking and which they know will cause, and does cause the victim to either fear the use of violence on at least two occasions, or causes the victim serious alarm or distress which has a substantial adverse effect on their usual day-to-day activities.
• s2A(2) defines ‘stalking’, somewhat circularly, as a course of conduct which (a) amounts to harassment, (b) where the acts or omissions involved are ones ‘associated with stalking’ and (c) the perpetrator knows or ought to know that the course of conduct amounts to harassment.
• s2A(3) sets out examples of acts or omissions associated with stalking, including following, contacting and watching a person; publishing any statement about that person or purporting to originate from them; monitoring that person’s internet, email or other electronic communications use; interfering with that person’s property; and loitering in any place.
There are no further definitions in the amendments. The amendments recognise the development of the law in the last decade towards civil and criminal liability for statements and communications, and appear to make it an offence to create fake profiles of individuals online. The amendment to s. 2A provides another basis on which the interception of personal communications is a criminal offence.