Bar Council calls for speedy adoption of stalking proposal

Proposed anti-stalking legislation has been given the thumbs-up by the Bar Council, which is urging the Government to move as fast as possible.

James Goudie QC, chair of the Bar Council's Law Reform Committee, said the acquittal last week of alleged stalker Dennis Chambers, who offered no defence in his trial, underlined the need for urgent legislation to deter stalkers.

Last week Goudie's committee gave its approval to the Government's proposed legislation set out in a consultation paper.

“We have suggested some fine tuning,” said Goudie, “but we agree with the basis of the proposed new tort of molestation and the two new criminal offences.”

Difficulty centres on defining “stalking”. The Home Office proposed a definition that included “persistent use of words or behaviour that would cause a person to be harassed or distressed or occurs in circumstances where a reasonable person should realise this would be the effect.”

The committee proposed changing “should realise” to “would realise” to allow a court to decide what would have caused distress in the individual circumstances. It also recommended that the word “persistent” should not be defined in the legislation. Goudie said: “We thought an attempt to define it would raise more problems than it would solve. It's better left to the court to decide in each case.”

Goudie criticised the Government for the “ridiculously short consultation period” it allowed. The paper was published in July and responses had to be in by 9 September. To beat the deadline Goudie had to authorise one member of the committee to respond before the committee had discussed it.

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