The CPS launched a joint stalking protocol with the police in September 2014, and has revised its legal guidance to prosecutors and delivered training on the new stalking offences, which led to a 15.1% rise in the level of prosecutions last year. The CPS continues to work closely with the police and voluntary sector to increase and improve prosecutions.
The national stalking helpline responded to 2,800 calls last year and frequently speaks to victims of stalking and harassment where restraining orders are not given or where ineffective restraining orders are given following a trial. It already takes the average victim 100 incidents of harassment before they go to the police. Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that stalking and harassment are serious offences that can lead to serious sexual assault and violent offences, including murder? What more can be done to address this serious and often hidden problem?
My hon. Friend is right to emphasise the seriousness of stalking—it is no joke—and I join her in commending the work of the organisation she mentioned. The CPS legal guidance on this crime urges prosecutors to apply for restraining orders on conviction and, where appropriate, on acquittal too. It is vital that we deal with this serious crime in a way that protects victims and deters perpetrators.
There is concern that the new stalking provisions are not being used and that harassment provisions are being used instead. Will my hon. and learned Friend indicate that the seriousness of the offence should be reflected in the use of stalking charges rather than harassment charges?
My hon. Friend speaks with experience from her practice in criminal law. I was a member of the all-party group on stalking and harassment, together with Mr Elfyn Llwyd, the former Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, and we said then it was vital that the law be used to its full extent. There is a non-exhaustive list of types of stalking behaviour. This means that prosecutors and the police should be looking at such cases in a wide way and applying the full extent of the law wherever appropriate.