“The Secret Barrister” explains a classic case of empty-gesture lawmaking in the UK:
in 2012, the coalition government, in a fit of virtue signalling, announced a bold plan to offer extra protection to victims of stalking, following a rash of reported cases where obsessive nutjobs had slipped through the net. Hence, via the 2012 Act, section 2A was shoved into the Protection from Harassment Act, creating a shiny new offence of stalking. What is stalking, you ask? Well here’s the clever bit. Stalking is…”a course of conduct which amounts to harassment…and [where] the acts or omissions involved are ones associated with stalking“. To inject some colour into the dull circularity of the definition, section 2A(3) provides “examples of acts or omissions associated with stalking”. In other words, you need to prove that the defendant is guilty of both harassment and stalking, in order to convict them of stalking. Therefore, proving stalking is by definition harder for the prosecution than simply proving harassment. And what do you get if you opt for the harder road? What prize awaits the victorious prosecutor who has slogged her way through the additional evidential burden thrust upon her by section 2A? The answer is….nothing. Or at least, nothing more than if you successfully prosecuted for harassment. The maximum sentence in each case is 6 months’ imprisonment. It is the very definition of empty gesture legislating. Section 2A is so very pointlessly pointless that I want urgently to go back in time to the day when then-crime prevention minister Jeremy Browne was hubristically prattling on about what a difference this law is going to make and shove a whoopee pie right up his schnoz. Section 2A does nothing other than create a new offence that is harder to prove than an existing offence that prohibits the same conduct, solely, it seems, to allow for the drawing of an entirely semantic distinction between “harassment” and “stalking”.
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