Examination of Witness

Part of Voyeurism (Offences) (No. 2) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 10th July 2018.

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Mrs Miller:

Thank you very much for allowing me to give evidence as we consider the Bill, Sir Roger. The amendments I propose, which have support from Members of every single political party, including some Members here, seek to do two things: first, to change the purposes mentioned in the Bill, and secondly, to introduce a new item to the Bill covering distribution.

Several people feel that the listed purposes are too tightly drawn. I have worked on the amendment with Professor Clare McGlynn, who is a professor of law at Durham University. It is her clear concern that recognising offences only if they are for the purposes of either sexual gratification or the humiliation of the victim would mean that a number of cases could never be tried. That is important, because the Government have made it clear from the start that the Bill is intended to close a loophole in the law. It does not do that as presently drafted. It will need to be more broadly drafted and not simply focus on those two different purposes.

The amendments have been drafted after my having looked at comments from people such as David Ormerod, a law commissioner who has clearly set out that “motive is irrelevant to liability” in criminal law. “Smith and Hogan’s Criminal Law”, which I understand is the bible on criminal law issues, sets out that motives form an element of an offence only in exceptional circumstances when it comes to criminal law. The example given in that book is of racially aggravated offences in which racism is an element.

In many ways the Bill is anomalous, inasmuch as it sets out purposes, whereas three quarters of offences in the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which, after all, the Bill amends, do not require one. The Minister asserted during the Second Reading Committee that the amendments would

“reverse the burden of proof”.—[Official Report, Second Reading Committee, 2 July 2018; c. 18.]

David Ormerod, a law commissioner, does not agree, hence my belief that the amendment should stand.

The second amendment relates to the distribution of material. Shortly after Scotland passed a similar law to outlaw upskirting, they realised that they had no way of stopping the distribution of those images. They had to pass a subsequent piece of legislation—the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016—so I found it quite surprising that the Government would bring forward the Bill based on the Scottish Act but not include the subsequent legislation on distribution.

To finish this final point—sorry my answer has been so long—at the moment the revenge pornography law, section 33 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015, would apply to stop the distribution of upskirting images only in cases where they would cause distress. It would not stop the distribution of those images in any other circumstances. There is clearly a loophole in the law around distribution. I believe that this amendment would close that loophole.