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Comedian and presenter Justin Lee Collins was last week convicted of harassment under the Protection of Harassment Act 1997, after his former girlfriend, Anna Larke of seven months cited a ‘fear of violence.

Under the 1997 Act, which was originally created to protect victims of stalkers, a perpetrator may be guilty of harassment if their ‘…..conduct causes another to fear on at least two occasions, that violence will be used against him……if he knows or ought to know that his cause of conduct will cause the other so as to fear on each of these occasions.

In this case, Justin Lee Collins’ ex-girlfriend stated that she was subject to a “campaign of abuse” which included both emotional abuse and actual violence.  She alleged that Justin Lee Collins had made her list all of her previous sexual partners, throw away DVD’s which featured actors who she found attractive and insisted that she always sleep facing him.  She also alleged that Justin Lee Collins had attacked her whilst they were in the US.

Despite the horrific abuse Ms Larke claims to have suffered during the relationship, Justin Lee Collins was sentenced to 140 hours of community service and was ordered to pay £3,500 in costs. It can be said that the non-custodial sentence imposed in this case has done little to boost public confidence in the justice system.

The Judgment, in this case, has come just a month after the Government announced plans for a new definition of domestic violence to include psychological, physical, financial, emotional and financial abuse.  The new wider definition which is due to be implemented in March 2013, will not change the legislation presently in place but it is intended to make it easier for Police and other agencies on the front line to identify and monitor victims of domestic abuse at an earlier stage and to ensure that victims get access to support which may help them to escape an abusive relationship.  No doubt the new definition is welcomed and will be seen as a small step in the right direction to recognising the wide range of abuse victims suffer and it is hoped that the new definition will mark a change in attitudes towards domestic abuse.

Many commentators have remarked that the rather lenient sentence imposed on Justin Lee Collins has done very little to show victims of domestic violence that they will be treated as seriously as victims of other crimes, however, the Government’s announcement will surely highlight the need for victims to report abuse as well as increase awareness as to the resources and support available to assist victims such as Ms Larke who may feel trapped in an abusive relationship.

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