The Government is expected to criminalise stalking next year by changing existing legislation rather than bringing in a new law. The proposals would see stalkers prosecuted under the Domestic Violence Ordinance that protects married or separated couples, as well as the Landlord and Tenant (Consolidation) Ordinance. Officials are still considering whether debt collectors, whose activities are largely unchecked, should be covered by the changes. An anti-stalking law was proposed last October by the Law Reform Commission to protect the public, with an emphasis on women who were being harassed by men. The commission recommended that stalkers who caused 'alarm' and 'distress' be subject to a maximum of two years' jail. That recommendation raised concern over its potential effect on press freedom, but the new provisions are expected to include exemptions for journalists. It is understood that the Government has agreed a law is necessary to deter potential stalkers and allow police to intervene in serious cases that could lead to violence or death. A source said legal changes were likely to be introduced next year. Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs Ng Hon-wah said his bureau had finished consulting government agencies, including the Department of Justice and the Security, Housing and Health and Welfare bureaus over its 'tentative views'. 'We will consider this suggestion [extending existing legislations] before making a conclusion,' he said. The Hong Kong Journalists' Association applauded news of the exemption for journalists. 'We welcome any suggestions which would reduce the restriction on press freedom,' association chairman Mak Yin-ting said. 'This sounds much less threatening to journalists.' Democrat James To Kun-sun, who is also deputy chairman of the Legislative Council security panel, said that adding stalking provisions to existing laws was a much better option. 'The new law may only be able to protect about 70 per cent of victims since unwed lovers are not covered under the Domestic Violence Ordinance which only takes care of those within a current or former marriage,' he said. 'But it's quite good enough.' But Hong Kong University assistant law professor Eric Cheung Tat-ming believed an independent law against stalking was necessary. 'The proposal was intended to prosecute stalkers like over-zealous lovers or movie-star fans. But these people don't have a legally recognised relationship as stated under the Domestic Violence Ordinance,' he said. Professor Cheung called for a 'narrowly defined law' that clearly specified penalties for those fearing for their personal safety. 'I don't believe journalists would pursue their targets to the extent of endangering their personal safety,' he said.