Courts will be able to issue civil restraining orders against stalkers as part of a new Bill from the Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee TD. These orders do not require a criminal prosecution and are easier for victims to obtain.
Minister McEntee has secured Government approval for the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2022. The Bill will now be brought before the Oireachtas and is expected to become law in the Autumn.
The wide-ranging Bill will also increase the maximum sentence for assault causing harm from five years to 10 years, allow life sentences for conspiracy to murder, make stalking and non-fatal strangulation standalone offences, and expand the existing harassment offence.
The new system of civil orders is important as these target stalking at an early stage, before it progresses to the level of seriousness seen in some of the criminal convictions.
The changes to the harassment offence are also important as it has been significantly expanded to cover any persistent conduct that seriously interferes with a person’s peace and privacy, or causes alarm, distress of harm.
The new standalone stalking offence is likely to be the most serious charge. This new offence covers any conduct that either puts the victim in fear of violence or causes the victim serious alarm and distress that has a substantial adverse impact on their usual day-to-day activities.
A wide list of possible acts is included - such as following, communicating, impersonating, interfering with property or pets etc. However, this list is not exhaustive.
The new stalking offence can be committed by a single act – it does not need to be persistent or repeated. It also covers situations where the person finds out about some or all of the stalking acts afterwards.
The maximum penalty for this offence will be 10 years.
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