On 15 June Conservative MP Sir Christopher Chope got up in the House of Commons to object to a private member’s bill seeing to legislate against “upskirting”. This is the practice of taking photos up peoples’ skirts.
The Voyeurism (Offences) Bill, the result of an online petition set up by Gina Martin, herself a victim of upskirting, seeks to amend the Sexual Offences Act 2003 to criminalise the practice where the purpose is to obtain sexual gratification or cause humiliation, distress or alarm.
The absence of a specific criminal offence of upskirting in England and Wales has been described as a “gap” in the law. While the offence can and has been prosecuted under other headings such as “voyeurism” or “outraging public decency”, such a categorisation provides neither certainty in the law, nor reflects the sexual nature of the act.
Further, “voyeurism” would apply only to the filming or photographing of actions which were taking place in public, and “outraging public decency” would require someone to have witnessed the action. Upskirting was made illegal in Scotland in 2009.
Chope, who shouted ‘Object!’ when the title of the bill was read out, received a significant amount of criticism from both inside and outside his party, delaying the private members bill so that it will now be reheard on 6 July, prompting Theresa May to pledge to make it into a government bill and it go through parliament.
Chope cited “unintended consequences” as his reason for objecting to the bill, but he appears to have a general aversion to private member’s bills altogether.
Indeed, videos of his objection show the session to have been very poorly attended, with around 20 MPs present. On the other hand many MPs would have reasonably assumed this to be an uncontroversial piece of legislation.
Since then, both his constituency and commons offices have seen protests, with underwear adorning the entrances!