On 5 September, as Shadow Justice Minister, I responded on behalf of the Opposition to the proposed amendments of the ‘Upskirting Bill’. To put this into context, until recently there was no specific legal protection for victims of ‘upskirting’, the act of illicitly taking private photographs of women (and men), either directly for sexual gratification, or indirectly to support an industry that derives sexual gratification from non-consensual images.
Following a campaign by Gina Martin, a Bill was proposed as a Private Member’s Bill, with Government support, by Liberal Democrat MP, Wera Hobhouse. Unfortunately, its passage was delayed by Tory MP, Christopher Chope’s objection. This meant that there was no legislation to protect victims of this vile act whilst further reading ensues, although it has given us the opportunity to make sure that the law is watertight and effective in preventing such a horrendous invasion of privacy.
The Labour Justice Team has, for some time, pressed the Government to ensure that this is brought into law and I am delighted that after the third reading, the Bill will be passed.
During discussions in the ‘Remaining stages’, these were some of my comments:
“In 2017, the shadow Justice Secretary, my Hon. Friend Richard Burgon, wrote to the Lord Chancellor to ask the Government to enact such legislation in Government time, but they refused to do so. However, we are pleased that they have now been catapulted into bringing forward this Bill. We have supported the Bill at all stages and supported the Government because we recognise the urgency of a situation that needs to be addressed. The Bill was drafted by Ms. Martin’s lawyers and we did not want in any way to cause difficulties or a delay in proceedings.
Let us be clear: upskirting is a depraved violation of privacy. It is shocking that, in England and Wales, at the moment there is no specific criminal offence to cover this, and that it is instead being prosecuted under more general offences such as outraging public decency, although we know it can be difficult to satisfy many of the requirements of such offences. The law, as it stands, means that the focus of the offence is often on protecting the public from potential exposure to lewd, obscene or disgusting acts, rather than on protecting the individual victim. Some people have been prosecuted for upskirting on the basis of outraging public decency, but that is not really what that specific provision in law was designed for.
The law should focus on individual victims and the crimes committed against them. A number of cases have highlighted the failings of the current law, and I start with the case in 2007 of Simon Hamilton, a barrister, who was convicted after secretly filming up the skirts of women in supermarkets. He was able to appeal on the basis that because none of the victims had been aware of the filming and no one had seen the film, public decency had not been outraged. Then there was the case of Guy Knight, a former chartered accountant, who took photographs up women’s skirts on trains over a period of five months while commuting to work. He was caught after suspicious passengers reported him to the Police. More than 200 illicit images were found on his phone and laptop, and 10 of the women in the pictures were traced by the Police. None of them was aware that they had been photographed.
This campaign came about because of Ms. Gina Martin. About a year ago, she was at a festival in London with her sister when she noticed that the man behind her had taken photos up her skirt. Shocked and distressed, she sought help from the Police, but the law was not sufficient to ensure that they could help her. That is why a change in the law is required, and it is why we have supported the Government throughout proceedings on this Bill.”