MPs win fight for law against stalking

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The Independent Online
The Government has bowed to pressure from MPs and the police and is to make stalking a crime. After previously refusing to back a call to jail stalkers for up to five years, David Maclean, a Home Office minister, said last night that proposals to bring in new laws on stalkers would be published "at the earliest opportunity".

He was speaking two days after reports that he had reservations about a Private Member's Bill from Janet Anderson, the Labour MP for Rossendale and Darwen - drafted with police support - aimed at introducing legislation on stalkers.

The Bill, which is to come before the Commons today, proposes stalking should be an offence punishable by a maximum five years in jail. Some ministers have expressed fears that its scope is too wide and could criminalise legitimate activities.

Mr Maclean said: "The cowardly and menacing behaviour of stalkers can cause untold misery to their victims. We want to remove the freedom stalkers have to terrorise innocent people in this way.

"However, any changes in the law must be effective without infringing the rights of people to go about their legitimate business."

He said the Lord Chancellor's Department was looking at remedies for domestic violence, which he believed might provide a useful model for legislation on stalking.

The minister added:"We will be publishing comprehensive proposals which would allow Parliament to legislate at the earliest opportunity."

Mr Maclean reiterated his intention not to support the Labour MP's Bill. "Although we all agree with the intention behind Janet Anderson's Bill, it is defective. That is why the Government cannot support its passage through Parliament."

He believes the scope of the Bill - which had an unopposed first reading in the Commons - was too wide. "It could mean that innocent people going about their lawful business could find themselves branded as criminals under this Bill.

"It does not make clear what activity would be dealt with by civil action or the criminal law. This could lead to wide discrepancies in the way people could be treated for similar behaviour," he said.

The Bill proposed the creation of a prohibitory order that could be issued by magistrates, allowing an exclusion zone around a victim and also requiring the stalker to undergo counselling. It would become a criminal offence to break the order and the Bill also included a legal definition of stalking.

Mrs Anderson said last night that she was disappointed the Government is not planning to back her Bill.