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Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Justice Secretary signals support for specific offence to deal with 'upskirting'

Written by Richard Wheeler & Ryan Hooper

Justice Secretary David Gauke has signalled the Government could support creating a specific offence to deal with upskirting.

He told MPs he is "sympathetic" to calls for further action against the practice and his officials are reviewing the current law to "make sure it is fit for purpose".

Mr Gauke added that there is a "case for making sure we've got something specific" to deal with upskirting.

Campaigners say existing laws for voyeurism, public decency and public order do not provide enough scope for a conviction, with calls to create a specific sexual offence to deal with it.

The first official figures obtained on upskirting - which often sees perpetrators taking photographs or videos of a victim's groin area from under their clothing - showed complainants as young as 10.

The information, obtained by the Press Association, also highlighted that only one-third of police forces in England and Wales have any data on the prevalence of upskirting.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Gauke (pictured) said: "I share the outrage at the distress that this intrusive behaviour can cause to victims and I'm determined to ensure that victims have confidence that their complaints will be taken seriously.

"I am sympathetic to the calls to change the law and my officials are reviewing the current law to make sure it is fit for purpose.

"As part of this work, we are considering the Private Member's Bill put forward by (Wera Hobhouse, Liberal Democrat MP for Bath)."

Labour MP Gill Furniss (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough) said almost 100,000 people have signed a petition calling for upskirting to be a specific sexual offence - with MPs from the major parties backing a motion on the issue.

She asked: "Why is the minister still refusing to act? We really need to make sure that our law reflects that of Scotland's, where this has been incorporated into their Sexual Offences Act 2009."

Mr Gauke reiterated that he is sympathetic to the request for further action, adding: "There are offences in place where people have successfully been prosecuted for upskirting, in terms of outraging public decency, and also voyeurism can also apply under the Sexual Offences Act.

"But I think there is a case to say these offences don't necessarily cover every incidence of upskirting and that is why there is a strong case for looking at the law and whether we need to change it."

In response to a later question from Labour's Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North), Mr Gauke said the impact of legislation in Scotland is being looked at closely.

He added that there have been successful prosecutions in England under existing laws, adding: "I think there is a case for making sure we've got something specific."

Lib Dem MP Ms Hobhouse's Voyeurism (Offences) Bill is included as part of Commons business on May 11 although it is near the bottom of the list.

It is unlikely to be debated but would receive a second reading and progress to the next stage for further scrutiny if no MPs shout "Object" when its title is read out.

UPSKIRTING AND THE LAW: YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED

What is upskirting?

The definition is currently applied to the practice of taking an image or video up somebody's clothing in order to see their genitals or underwear.

While the vast majority of known cases involve men targeting women, the roles can be reversed.

The first available data on the prevalence of upskirting showed victims as young as 10 complaining to police.

Currently, there is no specific law in place banning the practice.

But haven't people been convicted of upskirting?

While Scotland has had its own law on upskirting for almost a decade, the law in England and Wales has not adapted to advances in technology.

Currently, anyone in England and Wales who falls victim to the cruel craze can explore possible convictions for voyeurism, public disorder or indecency.

But campaigners say this is inadequate because criteria for a conviction down these channels - such as the incident being witnessed by other people - is not always available.

So what will the new law say?

According to the current draft wording, an amendment to the Voyeurism Offences Bill, a person would be convicted of upskirting if they take an image or video beneath a victim's clothing, to view their genitals or undergarments, without consent.

The image would fall foul of the law if it was used for sexual gratification or if it caused humiliation, distress or alarm to the victim.

A suspect could be convicted even if they failed to capture an image - the intention to film would be enough to secure a prosecution.

And the punishment?

Those convicted of upskirting at a Magistrates' Court can receive a jail term of up to 12 months or a fine. At a Crown Court, where more serious cases are heard, a conviction will attract a jail term of up to two years.

Given the weight of public support for the law, is it expected to be given the go-ahead?

Just because campaigners say they have cross-party support it does not mean the Bill will sail through the legislative process, particularly because it is a Private Member's Bill - not one included in the Conservative Party manifesto at the last general election.

The Bill is scheduled for a second reading in the House of Commons on May 11 but will have further bureaucratic hurdles to clear before becoming law.

First of all, it has to get on the reading list. Then, if just one MP objects during that reading, the Bill will be shunted to the bottom of the pile and can spend months languishing in purgatory.

If it is read with no objections, it will progress to the committee stage for possible amendments, before returning to the Commons and the Lords.

Only then will it become a criminal offence.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Stefan Rousseau / PA Wire.