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Online Stalking and Harassment

Volume 573: debated on Tuesday 7 January 2014

5. What steps the Crown Prosecution Service is taking to increase the rate of successful prosecutions of cases of online stalking and harassment. (901838)

The CPS has published guidance for its prosecutors on stalking and harassment cases and on prosecuting cases involving communications sent via social media. In addition, all prosecutors must complete an online e-learning course on cyber-stalking, non-cyber stalking and harassment.

Will my hon. and learned Friend help reassure victims of stalking and help prosecutors by setting out exactly what training and guidance is being brought in for the CPS following the Government’s implementation of the new tougher stalking offences?

Yes, I am happy to do that. My hon. Friend will recall that just over a year ago the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 amendment provisions dealing with stalking and with stalking leading to fear of violence and alarm and distress were introduced. Since that time new guidance has been brought forward dealing with the way in which such offences are to be identified and with harassment, and also specifically how they should be dealt with if they involve the social media. Some 438 cases have been prosecuted so far under the new law. That figure is not necessarily too low given that we are at a very early stage, but it is important that this should be driven forward so a joint protocol is being produced by the CPS and the Association of Chief Police Officers. That is due in spring 2014 and it will set out in more detail how both sides of the criminal justice service should perform.

Those of us who campaigned for the new law are disappointed in as much as we now have evidence of under-charging by the CPS using the old 1997 Act as it was, and also, regrettably, many Crown prosecutors have not been sufficiently trained to implement the new law. Will the Minister please have a word with the Director of Public Prosecutions and ensure this is put right, because otherwise we will be failing many thousands of people?

May I start by paying tribute to the right hon. Gentleman and his all-party group on their work in this area? These two new offences, which were introduced just over a year ago, are an important step forward. It is too early to say whether it is disappointing that the number of offences so far charged is 438 rather than a higher figure, because we want to see how this goes forward from here, but there is no lack of drive or push in trying to deal with these offences, which are horrific and require a very firm approach, and I think this joint protocol will certainly help. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to discuss it with me, I will be more than happy to do so.