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 Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice 11:30 am, 12th July 2018

People may have different views about that question. When activities are criminalised, it is right that the Crown Prosecution Service has the burden of proving the offence. We need to strike the right balance between victims and people who are accused of offences. Amendment 1 would reverse the burden of proof to the extent that it would rest on the defendant to show that they acted for a different purpose, and it is very limited, with only two reasons. It would put the burden of proving a defence on the defendant, but I see no issue with the fact that in our law it is for the CPS to prove its case and to prove that people should be criminalised for what is an extremely significant offence. It is wrong that people do this activity, but when they do it and they are criminalised for it, they will have a criminal record for a sex activity for which they could go to prison for two years.

I will turn to our concerns about the amendments, which would broaden the scope of the purposes of the perpetrator of the crime. One concern is that some people who we do not want to criminalise through the Bill might be caught by it. It might catch young children who are above the age of criminal liability, which is 10, but who do not realise the impact of their action and mean no harm when they carry it out. It might catch a doctor who attends a medical emergency where she needs to view under a patient’s clothing using equipment, but the patient is unconscious and cannot give consent. The doctor would be captured by the offences proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke. The last example simply shows that it is not possible to think of every legitimate defence that individuals might have for viewing underneath someone’s clothing.

The second concern relates to the sex offenders register. It is not clear who may be placed on the sex offenders register under my right hon. Friend’s amendments. Specifying the purposes allows us to ensure that serious sexual offenders are made subject to notification requirements—that is, they are placed on the register. Where offenders commit a sufficiently serious act for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification, they will be placed on the sex offenders register, which assists the police with their management in the community. Specifying the purposes also ensures that those who do not pose a further risk are not made subject to those requirements.

We want to ensure that limited police resources are appropriately and effectively targeted. That is a very real issue. Assistant Commissioner Hewitt gave evidence of an 8% to 9% increase in the number of people on the sex offenders register in London over the past few years. Although the amendments would remove the purposes in respect of the substantive offences, they would not remove them from the notification requirements. Therefore, there is potential confusion about how it would work in practice. For example, where the offence has been committed and no defences are raised, will the court consider whether it has been done for sexual gratification? If not, will a number of people who need to be on the sex offenders register not be placed on it?

The Bill is drafted to capture this reprehensible behaviour in a clear and focused way, to ensure that those who should be punished for it are and that the penalties available for it are robust, while still being proportionate. The legislation has been brought forward at speed and is designed to close a small gap in the law that we have identified and that needs to be filled. It will work alongside existing offences to strengthen the criminal law. It has been useful to consider the amendment, but we seek swiftly to plug a gap that we have identified needs to be fixed in line with our existing laws and established precedent in Scotland.

Undoubtedly, we want to keep the law up to date, given the prevalence of such issues and the development of technology, so we should continue to keep these areas under review. The Government are alive to the fact that new technology may facilitate the carrying out of degrading acts, but we want to fill a gap that we have identified and the Bill will put this offence swiftly on the statute book. In the circumstances, I urge the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd to withdraw the amendment.