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Take stalking seriously, CPS urges its staff

24 September 2010

Victims of stalking have been failed by the criminal justice system, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has admitted.

Launching its new “groundbreaking” prosecution guidance - which specifically includes ‘cyberstalking’ for the first time – the CPS pledged to improve its track record of convictions against harassment.

Nazir Afzal, CPS community liaison director and lead on stalking crimes, said: “Prosecutors must now look at the bigger picture when dealing with these cases because we know that treating incidents of stalking as isolated belies the full impact on the victim and the criminal behaviour of the perpetrator.

“We know that we should have done better at this in the past. We need those affected by this crime to know that we have listened carefully to concerns raised by victims and stalking support groups, and we recognise how serious and how distressing this behaviour can be.”

The 45-page document urges CPS staff to ramp up their awareness of what constitutes the largely undefined offence and what punishments are available.

It concedes that without a proper legal definition, cases of stalking are notoriously difficult to prosecute, and repeatedly stresses that the offence often overlaps with domestic violence – advising staff to clearly mark all case files containing suspected evidence of stalking with the abbreviation ‘DV’.

Under the heading ‘specialist prosecutors’, the document also asks employees to send all serious allegations of stalking up to a team of senior CPS staff.

A significant section of the guidance is dedicated to ‘risk assessment’ protocol – explaining to prosecutors how to identify a possible offender and how to judge the threat they pose.

It also expressly lists “cyberstalking” as a particular example harassment for the first time, officially listing chat rooms and social networking sites as hotspots for potential offences.

Alexis Bowater, chief executive for the victims’ charity Network for Surviving Stalking (NSS), said: "We hope the inclusion of cyber-stalking for the first time will encourage everyone involved to take this crime more seriously. This new guidance will go a long way to improving the lives of victims and to making sure that perpetrators are treated appropriately by the courts. Recognising in particular new forms of stalking such as cyber-stalking is ground-breaking."

CPS staff have been told to bolster liaison with the police and to apply for “stronger” restraining orders in a bid to reduce the risk to victims as well as deterring repeat offenders.

Afzal added: “Stalking is pernicious and can affect anyone regardless of their walk of life. It has a devastating impact on the lives of those who become victims. The guidance gives prosecutors a better understanding of what stalking is.

“Our guidance will go some way to reassuring victims that the CPS will prosecute these cases robustly and with a greater understanding of the invidiousness of this crime.”

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Risk & Compliance Police & Prisons Costs Funding