Stalking and non-fatal strangulation laws to become 'stronger and clearer'

Stalking And Non-Fatal Strangulation Laws To Become 'Stronger And Clearer'
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has secured Government approval to draft legislation aiming to create greater reporting of the crimes. Photo: PA Images
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Sarah Mooney

Stalking and non-fatal strangulation are set to become standalone offences under new legislation, with the changes aiming to create greater awareness and reporting of the crimes.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has secured Government approval to draft the legislation.


While both stalking and non-fatal strangulation are already crimes, the Minister is proposing a number of changes to make the law in this area “clearer and stronger”.

The changes, which will be included in the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, will empower courts to issue orders restraining stalking behaviours without a criminal prosecution and ensure strangulation can be prosecuted as a serious offence even if there are no visible injuries.

“Stalking is an extremely serious and intrusive crime that can cause devastating psychological distress,” Minister McEntee said.


“It may also be a precursor to acts of physical violence. Evidence suggests that having a specific offence leads to greater public awareness and to an increase in the number of cases being reported and prosecuted.”

The Minister said non-fatal strangulation can meanwhile be “an indication of future, lethal violence and is a risk factor for homicides against women in the home.”

“Strangulation is highly prevalent in domestic abuse and frequently used as a tool of coercion, often accompanied by threats to kill,” she said.

“While choking and strangling are already illegal, it is hoped that creating this new offence will encourage victims to come forward and report what has happened to them.”


The Minister urged victims of both crimes to continue to come forward ahead of the legislative changes.

Stalking offence

The new stalking offence will cover any behaviour that either puts the victim in fear of violence, or causes them serious alarm and distress that has a substantial adverse impact on their usual day-to-day activities.

A wide list of possible acts is included, such as following, communicating, impersonating or interfering with property or pets. The offence can be committed by a single act, and does not need to be persistent or repeated. It also covers situations where the person finds out about some or all of the stalking acts afterwards.

When it comes to court proceedings under the new legislation, a court must consider as an aggravating factor if the person has previously been convicted of offences against the victim, such as making threats to kill, and increase the sentence.


In addition, it is proposed that a court may make an order restraining stalking behaviours separately from a criminal prosecution. “These orders would require a lower burden of proof, and can be applied for by the affected person themselves, or by the gardaí on their behalf,” the Department of Justice said.

“They can be made against any person. This will allow victims faster access to the courts to ensure they are safe and they feel safe.”

Breach of an order would be, in itself, a criminal offence carrying a maximum of one year imprisonment. It may also be a basis for a criminal prosecution for a stalking or harassment offence.

Non-fatal strangulation offences

Proposals on non-fatal strangulation will ensure assaults involving strangulation or choking can be prosecuted as a serious offence, “even if there are no observable injuries”.


Two new offences will be created. Under the first, an assault involving strangulation will have, without any other harm being shown, the same penalties as an assault causing harm offence - which currently carries a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment.

Under the second offence, strangulation causing serious harm will carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

The Department of Justice said research suggests that a history of strangulation presents a seven-fold increase in the risk of death. Internationally, strangulation is the second-most common method of killing in adult female homicides, after stabbing.

The long-term physical and mental health effects of strangulation are also serious, the Department said.

Studies report that even where there is little to no visible injury, longer-term physical effects have been identified including internal bleeding, dizziness, loss of memory and other neurological effects. There is also an increased risk of miscarriage. Psychological outcomes identified include depression, anxiety, suicidality, PTSD and dissociation.

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