Legislation that would give police the power to apply for stalking protection orders (SPOs) on behalf of victims has been formally lodged with the Scottish Parliament.
The proposals, being brought forward by SNP MSP Rona Mackay, would allow police to apply for the orders, saving victims from taking legal action when they are at their most vulnerable.
Currently, victims of stalking can apply to the courts for a non-harassment order (NHO) – or prosecutors can apply for one after a stalker has been convicted – but the politician has said she believes the process can be costly and “stressful mentally and physically”.
Her bill to introduce stalking protection orders comes just a month after government crime figures showed that recorded offences for stalking had more than doubled since 2012, with young women the most likely to be targeted.
The statistics showed while 11.1 per cent of adults experienced at least one type of stalking and harassment in 2017-18, this jumped to 26 per cent of young women aged 16 to 24.
In more than half of cases, the stalkers were known to the victims in some way, but in 41 per cent they were not. The figures also revealed the police were only informed in 9 per cent of cases.
Ms Mackay has said her bill has the backing of Scottish Women’s Aid.
She said: “Stalking is frightening and extremely distressing. It has a profound affect on the physical and mental health of its victims and of course, in some cases, can escalate into violence.
“The creation of specific stalking protection orders, which would be applied for by the police rather than by victims, would allow victims of stalking to receive legal protection without cost and with reduced pressure, during a time of particular vulnerability.
“Everyone should feel confident they can walk down the street safely or use social media without fear of consequence. My proposal of legal reform would remove obstacles for victims and help curb the worrying rise of stalking in Scotland.”
Ms Mackay’s proposal is similar to one introduced in England and Wales through the Stalking Protection Act 2019, which police could seek from the courts before any conviction has been made.
It will now be consulted on over the next three months before being brought to the Scottish Parliament for debate.
Ms Mackay said: “My proposal aims to give victims greater protection and access to justice. The police will have to show that there is evidence of stalking behaviour and that they believe that there is a risk to the victim. An order would then prohibit the stalker from continuing this behaviour.
“This proposal goes further than recently introduced legislation in England and ensures that no matter the relationship between the victim and stalker, an SPO could be granted.”