Voyeurism: additional offences

Part of Voyeurism (Offences) (No. 2) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:30 am on 12th July 2018.

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Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 11:30 am, 12th July 2018

Diolch yn fawr, Ms Buck. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.

Amendment 2, along with amendments 3 and 1, was tabled by Mrs Miller and has support from Members of every single political party in the House. The group of amendments seeks to change the purposes mentioned in the Bill to ensure that all upskirting is illegal, regardless of the motivation.

The common issue in all upskirting cases is that the victims did not know that a picture was taken, nor did they consent. The amendments seek to ensure that the Bill, which intends to close a loophole, does not enable another on the motivation of the perpetrator. That view is supported by the Director of Public Prosecutions; victims who presented evidence to the Committee, whose anonymity should be respected; the victims’ lead of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, Dame Vera Baird; and Victim Support, in the most recent written evidence presented to the Committee.

As we are amending the Sexual Offences Act 2003, consent should surely be considered, given the significance of establishing consent and the degree to which the complainant has capacity to give consent in other sexual crimes. Upskirting by its very nature is committed without the victim’s knowledge or consent. The Bill does not adequately cover financial motives such as selling to the media, as is common in celebrity upskirting shots. Public order offences might cover such situations, but if they can be covered by the Bill simply by changing the focus to consent, that should be done.

The Bill does not cover situations where the motivation to take a picture is group bonding or banter. In such situations, images are taken not always for sexual gratification or to distress the victim, but purely to have a laugh with friends. The amendments would cover that situation.

I beg the Committee’s leave to refer to the views presented by Alison Saunders, who notes:

“The Bill criminalises observation or recording without the complainant’s consent. Unlike other sexual offences, this offence is commonly committed without the complainant’s knowledge.”

She states that consideration must therefore be given

“to providing that the offence is committed where the complainant either does not know or consent.”

Alison Saunders notes concerns about the specific purposes for which the activities in question must be committed. She anticipates that most offending would fall within the specified categories, but warns that

“this is another element that the prosecution will need to prove. It is not inconceivable that suspects will advance the defence that this purpose is not made out beyond reasonable doubt and/or that they had another purpose, such as ‘high jinks’.”

Some of the evidence that has been presented to us—again, I respect the anonymity of the victims—lays out the range of defences people will put forward with success, which brings into question whether we should not be more cautious in our approach to purposes. Ms Saunders also notes

“Consideration could be given as to whether purpose is a necessary or relevant element of the offence (once it has been proved that the conduct is intentional, and given that it involves an affront to the integrity and dignity of the victim).”

The right hon. Member for Basingstoke set out many of those arguments in her oral evidence on Tuesday.

As this legislation is necessary, I do not intend to hold up the Committee or to press the amendments at this stage. I would, however, like to stress again that the point of legislation is to be fit for purpose and effective, not simply to exist. Nor should we be expected to revisit it within an unreasonably short period of time. I hope that the Government will give proper consideration to this issue, since I and many colleagues believe that the amendments are needed to ensure that the legislation protects victims, whatever the motive of the perpetrator. Legislation should be clear and consistent, and in the case of sexual offences it should be mindful of proportionality in the degree to which the onus is on the complainant to prove a motive for the defendant’s choice of action.