Computer Active: Parliamentary inquiry looks at online stalking and harrassment

Parliamentary inquiry looks at online stalking and harrassment

Cross-bench committee will see if amendments or a new law is needed

The word law highlighted in a dictionary
A new law may be needed to protect victims of online stalking

An independent Government inquiry is considering whether changes need to be made to the law that protects people from stalking and harassment.

A cross-party group of MPs and Peers will look at the case for revising the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, paying particular attention to the issue of online stalking.

Chaired by Plaid Cymru MP, Elfyn Llwyd, the inquiry follows on from a campaign led by the Protection Against Stalking, the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, the Network for Surviving Stalking and Napo, and was backed by the parliamentary Justice Unions Group.

The committee will hear oral evidence over the coming months before submitting its recommendations.

Elfyn Llwyd said: "In 2010, 53,000 incidents of stalking and harassment were recorded by the police in the UK – just 2.2 per cent of these cases resulted in a custodial sentence.

"While it is not clear yet whether ‘cyber stalking' is a growing trend in isolation or just one more way in which to stalk someone, it is a worrying development.

"Listening to the experts will help us to begin forming the case for where we go from here. Together with reviewing the substantive law, we will look at changing sentencing practices and guidelines."

The committee heard its first evidence last week, from the National Centre for Cyberstalking Research set up by the University of Bedfordshire.

This is the first study from the new organisation and it found that victims of stalking were more likely to be harassed online at sites such as Facebook, than by email or mobile phone.

Half of the 353 people who took part in the survey said that harassment had come from people who were either complete strangers or who couldn't be identified.

This makes it harder for the police, but Jennifer Perry who advises the Network for Surviving Stalking on cyber stalking said: "It's not so much the law that is at fault, but the fact the police can't get evidence to support a conviction, such as seizing computers, if they do find out who is behind an incidence of stalking."

Three more oral evidence sessions will be held in the coming months and the inquiry is accepting written evidence from the police, probation staff, magistrates, judges, academics, and those with experience of stalking.

A report will be compiled with recommendations early next year.

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