Legislators support stalking bills

A pair of bills to outlaw stalking and enable victims to seek protection through the courts were unanimously approved by legislators Wednesday.

Changes to the Penal Code will make stalking a specific offense in its own right for the first time, while a new Stalking (Civil Jurisdiction) Bill allows victims to get restraining orders and seek compensation through the courts.

Attorney General Sam Bulgin said the companion pieces of legislation represented a “two-prong” approach to the problem of stalking. He said victims would now be able to get a protection order and seek damages for pain and suffering while police pursued a separate criminal investigation with the aim of charging the offender.

The amendment to the Penal Code makes stalking a specific criminal offense for the first time and outlines patterns of behavior that can be defined as stalking.

They include repeatedly watching someone, following them, engaging in unwanted written or verbal communication, intimidating, harassing or molesting the victim. The offense carries a penalty of four years in prison in the most extreme circumstances.

Mr. Bulgin said the issue had been brought into focus by a case earlier this year where a man had followed his ex-girlfriend to the island from Canada, moved into the same apartment complex and started showing up at her work. He was eventually prosecuted for harassment, but police said at the time that stalking legislation would have made the case easier to prosecute.

Mr. Bulgin said the bills were “not an overnight formulation.” In fact, stalking legislation has been under consideration since 2005 when the Business and Professional Women’s Club established a task force to investigate the issue.

“They prepared a report dealing with what they termed the prevalence of stalking and it concluded that stalking presents a serious problem that requires legislative intervention,” Mr. Bulgin said.

A report by the Law Reform Commission followed, which culminated in the pair of bills, he added.

It was not clear why it took more than a decade from the initial report until the bills were formulated and Mr. Bulgin acknowledged that many other countries had already enacted similar legislation.

Commending the bills for approval, he said, “Government believes the enactment of this legislation would address the inadequacies of criminal and civil law as they relate to this issue of stalking and would serve as recognition by the government that comprehensive protection should be made available to people who fear they will become victims of violent activity in the immediate future.”

The bills attracted unanimous support and will go to a third reading later in the week before being passed into law.

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