After the recent private members bill by Lib Dem MP Wera Hobhouse brought to Parliament was blocked by Tory MP Sir Christopher Chope, Theresa May has reassured that the Government still plans to make upskirting a criminal offence with a maximum penalty of 2 years imprisonment.
Sir Chope claims he did not block the bill because he disapproves of the proposed legislation, only the way it was brought. He feared it could not be properly debated as it was brought on a Friday.
Nonetheless, it has not halted the progress of the bill altogether as the Justice Minister Lucy Frazer assures:
"We will ensure this bill becomes law as soon as possible to protect more victims and properly punish offenders."
What is upskirting?
The current law in place recognises it as a form of voyeurism, wherein an offender takes photographs under a victim’s skirt. An accused may also be charged with outraging public decency, with a ‘maximum penalty of a level 5 fine and/or 6 months imprisonment when tried summarily’ according to the Magistrates’ Court Sentencing Guidelines.
Activists have argued that without appropriate legislation, perpetrators are not being brought to justice, leaving others vulnerable to the same invasion of privacy.
How does the current law restrict matters?
Voyeurism is a crime which requires the victim to have been filmed in a private place. Any allegation that an individual has conducted filming in a public environment would not be defined by law as voyeurism.
If alternatively, an allegation of outraging public decency was made, this would usually need to be supported by witnesses who could support the evidence that the act had occurred. Anyone who claims to have been targeted without witnesses to back up their allegation could see the case fail.
The proposed upskirting law
With the bill still underway, there are plans to make the law on upskirting carry a prison sentence of 2 years as well as adding the name of those who are found guilty to the sex offenders register.
According to Prison Reform Trust Sex Offender Information Booklet, the register will hold the name of anyone who was sentenced to more than 30 months in prison for life. Those who are sentenced to between 6 and 30 months will expect to be on the register for 10 years if they are an adult, or 5 years if they are under 18. If sentenced between 6 months and the maximum 24 months, upskirting offenders should expect to be on the register for 10 years. If charged with 6 months or less they will be on the register for 7 years (3.5 if they are under 18). If they get a community order they will be registered for 5 years (2.5 if they are under 18). Anyone given a caution will expect to be on the register for 2 years, or 1 year if they are below the age of 18.
As the proposed legislation begins to progress and the law changes accordingly, the way an allegation of upskirting will be dealt with will be seen in the courts. At that time the UK courts may look to Scotland for guidance, where upskirting has been covered by legislation since 2010 which sees it listed under voyeurism.
Nicholas De Freitas, is Director of Crime at Duncan Lewis’ Harrow branch. Nicholas has extensive expertise in all criminal matters, representing both private and legal aid eligible clients. As a Higher Rights Advocate, he has experience in a wide range of criminal proceedings and he has acted as Junior Counsel in a number of murder cases and complex fraud trials. He has also conducted trials involving Sexual Offences including both Rape and Sexual Assault.
Contact Nicholas on 020 3114 1150 and nicholasd@Duncanlewis.com.
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