New Bill seeks to create stand-alone offence of stalking in Irish law

Campaign by two women leads to drafting of legislation that will be brought to Seanad

Una Ring, pictured speaking to media outside Cork Circuit Criminal Court. File photograph: Daragh McSweeney/Cork Courts Limited

Una Ring, pictured speaking to media outside Cork Circuit Criminal Court. File photograph: Daragh McSweeney/Cork Courts Limited

 

A campaign by two women, who were victims of stalking, to create a specific stalking offence in Irish law has resulted in the drafting of legislation to be introduced in the Seanad in the autumn.

Fianna Fáil Seanad leader Lisa Chambers will introduce the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Stalking (Amendment) Bill in September after working with Eve McDowell from Sligo and Una Ring from Cork who she said “very bravely spoke about their own personal experience”, when they came very close to losing their lives.

She said “both of them were victims to what I would consider to be an offence of stalking but it doesn’t actually exist in Irish law”.

Ms Chambers, who also worked with Catherine O’Sullivan of Stalking Ireland on the Bill, said Ms McDowell and Ms Ring “went to the justice system and would get what they say is partial justice because of the inadequacy of the law in this area”.

She said “the Bill seeks to introduce a separate stand-alone offence of stalking into Irish law, similar to what is in existence in the UK and also a recommendation of the Law Reform Commission and I intend to bring that Bill before the House at the beginning of next term”.

Ms Ring and Ms McDowell launched a campaign in April for the introduction of the stand-alone offence with longer sentences for the crime than those currently available to prosecutors.

Ms Ring said at the time that “on the rare occasion that stalking is prosecuted in Ireland, it is prosecuted under harassment laws. The terms ‘stalking’ and ‘harassment’ are sometimes used interchangeably, but they can be very different,” said Ms Ring who saw her stalker, James Steele, jailed for five years for harassment.

“Harassment is unwanted behaviour from someone else that makes you feel distressed, humiliated or threatened but stalking is more sinister and distressing – when James Steele was messaging me that was harassment but when he turned up at my house with a crowbar that was stalking.”

Ms McDowell also said at the time that since people heard how her stalker, Igor Lewandowski (21), had been jailed for five years after he stalked her at various locations around Galway and broke into her flat with a claw hammer, she has been contacted by many women who had similar experiences.

Ms Chambers’s legislation is a Private Members’ Bill and as such does not have formal sanction, but on occasion the Government will support and work with a Senator or TD to make the measure law.

When the two women launched the campaign the Government indicated that it was unlikely to revisit stalking and harassment laws so soon after updating legislation in the area last year, with the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Act, also known as Coco’s Law, which became law in December.

Consideration had been given to creating a separate offence but it was decided it was too similar to the offence of harassment which was already covered by the law. Instead it was decided to raise the maximum sentence for harassment from seven to 10 years to account for cases where victims were stalked.

“Following consultations with various stakeholders and an in-depth examination of the current offence of harassment, it was clear that stalking behaviour is already encompassed in the current offence of harassment under section 10 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997,” the Department of Justice said in a statement, after the two women launched their campaign.

“Instead of introducing a distinct offence of stalking, Section 10 of the 1997 Act was amended to increase the maximum penalty for harassment to 10 years’ imprisonment to reflect the harm caused by those who engage in the most serious forms of harassment.”