Legislation to stop harassment and stalking to go before Dáil

Bill proposes provision to seek no-contact orders from the courts

 Abuse survivor Jessica Bowes remains concerned about survivors being contacted by former partners. Jonathan McSherry, served 22 months in prison for an attack on her in 2015.

Abuse survivor Jessica Bowes remains concerned about survivors being contacted by former partners. Jonathan McSherry, served 22 months in prison for an attack on her in 2015.

 

Legislation enabling people who are being harassed, threatened or intimidated, including through social media, to seek a no-contact order from the courts will be tabled in the Dáil on Tuesday.

Such orders will bar an assailant from contacting the person, including from electronic devices, for specified periods of time.

The Domestic Violence (No Contact Order) Bill 2019 will be moved by Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger to amend last year’s Domestic Violence Act to provide for the orders.

Significantly, the person seeking the order will not have to be related to or have been in a relationship with the person or organisation they feel harassed by.

Anyone who feels harassed by persistent contact could seek an order.

A similar provision, known as a non-harassment order, exists in Scotland. Though usually used in domestic abuse cases, the non-harassment orders have been sought against people known to the victim such as neighbours, colleagues or even organisations, and strangers.

Harassment is defined there as including unwanted phone calls, letters, emails, texts or visits, stalking, verbal abuse and threats, damaging property or using dogs to frighten the person.

Abuse survivor Jessica Bowes

Ms Coppinger said she was moving the Bill following contact from abuse survivor Jessica Bowes who remains concerned about survivors being contacted by former partners.

Jonathan McSherry (36), served 22 months of a 3½-year prison sentence for an attack on her in 2015, during which he broke nearly every bone in her face and kicked her a number of times. Earlier this year she was awarded €150,000 in damages against him.

McSherry attacked Ms Bowes in December 2015 after she arrived at her Clondalkin home in a taxi with others, after she had been on a Christmas night out. CCTV footage showed him dragging her from the taxi, punching, kicking and dragging her along the ground while still punching her.

She lost consciousness twice in the attack which lasted more than a minute and a half before she crawled into a neighbour’s house.

Ms Coppinger said: “Jessica was anxious that there should be legislation to prohibit an abuser or harasser contacting their victim in any way, as this is such a pernicious form of abuse and control.”

‘Alarm or distress’

The Bill defines “harassment” as conduct or contact that had occurred on at least two occasions and which includes causing another person “alarm or distress”.

An order may be granted where “it would appear to a reasonable person that the applicant has been subjected to harassment by the respondent”. An order can stay in effect for any length of time determined by the court and breach of it may be punishable by a fine or prison term.