Proposed laws against stalking and harassment present no threat to the freedom of the press, the judge who helped draw them up said yesterday. Mr Justice Barry Mortimer, chairman of the Law Reform Commission's subcommittee on privacy, said the proposed criminal offence of stalking was to protect ordinary people, almost always women, from domestic harassment. He said the defence that harassment was 'reasonable under the circumstances' would cover reporters doing their job. 'Journalists, of course, have the right to pursue fairly and lawfully their activities,' he said. He said the committee remained open to media criticism and was prepared to change its mind if necessary. The committee yesterday announced proposals to close what it saw as a gap in the law which left women, in particular, vulnerable. Former lovers, ex-husbands and the lovelorn who repeatedly dogged the object of attention could have a 'devastating effect on the victim's private life', Mr Justice Mortimer said. Solicitor Sharon Ser, chairwoman of the Family Law Association, said women facing such harassment had few legal options unless divorcing the harasser. 'Potentially, one could have a claim for trespass to the person but it would be difficult and costly,' she said. She said even if the court issued a non-molestation order, police would be reluctant to intervene in what they saw as a domestic, civil dispute. If the proposed law was passed, police could intervene immediately. Ms Ser said: 'It seems to be a step in the right direction.' Mr Justice Mortimer said the test of 'reasonable in the circumstances' could mean reduced protection for media personalities who had previously invited publicity. However, he said the report was not prompted by the death of Princess Diana nor the paparazzi-style harassment of his colleague, Mr Justice Gerald Godfrey. The report also asks the Government to consider a general review of the law relating to domestic violence and whether laws are needed to protect the public from debt collectors and landlords. THE PROPOSED LEGAL CHANGES Criminal offence to pursue a course of conduct that amounts to harassment. It must occur on at least two occasions. Maximum sentence amounting to two years. Defences: for the prevention of or detection of crime; conducted by a lawful authority (for example, the police); reasonable in the particular circumstances (for example, it may cover a reporter who was carrying out an assignment). Courts would be given wide powers to issue restraining orders. Civil damages would be available.