The UK government has confirmed it will introduce legislation to make the invasive practice of "upskirting" — which involves taking photos up people's skirts without their consent — a specific crime in England and Wales.
The news comes after public and political outrage when a private members’ bill on the issue was blocked by a single backbencher in the House of Commons on Friday.
Sir Christopher Chope, who blocked the bill, was booed by his Conservative party colleagues after he stopped the bill from completing its second reading.
It was a shocking result, as everyone had expected the bill to pass, with the government saying earlier on Friday that it would support the bill, which had received cross-party backing.
But the fight to make upskirting a crime looks like it will have a happy ending after all.
The government said on Monday that it will take on the legislation, making it a government bill instead. The aim, according to a spokesperson for Prime Minister Theresa May, is to secure a second reading for the government bill “as soon as possible” and before ministers break for summer in July.
The good thing about it now being a government bill, rather than a private members’ bill, is that it makes the process significantly more secure. It only takes one person objecting to a private members’ bill to block its progress. But with a government bill, however, it’s voted on — and so as long as the bill is supported by the majority, it should pass.
And this bill has a lot of support.
Fellow Tory ministers and backbenchers slammed Chope following his objection, with Conservative MP Simon Clarke saying Chope had “embarrassed himself” and “does not speak for me or the Conservatives.”
Commons leader Andrea Leadsom told colleagues, when the cabinet discussed the issue on Monday, that “the measure is one the government supports and has received extensive support both within and outside parliament.”
Chope’s office door was also decorated with knicker bunting on Monday, in protest of his disruption of the bill’s progress.
MPs teach Sir Christopher Chope an upskirting lesson. This is what his Commons office looks like this morning pic.twitter.com/39xeayyBYF— Nigel Nelson (@NigelNelson) June 18, 2018
Meanwhile, May tweeted on Sunday that upskirting is an “invasion of privacy which leaves victims feeling degraded and distressed.”
Upskirting is an invasion of privacy which leaves victims feeling degraded and distressed. I am disappointed the Bill didn't make progress in the Commons today, and I want to see these measures pass through Parliament - with government support - soon.— Theresa May (@theresa_may) June 15, 2018
The new legislation would make upskirting punishable by up to two years in prison in England and Wales — bringing them in line with legislation that already exists in Scotland.
Currently in England and Wales, some instances of upskirting can be prosecuted under the Sexual Offences Act, either for the offences of outraging public decency, or voyeurism. But, as with Gina Martin’s experience, existing criminal law doesn’t cover every instance of upskirting.
The new bill would introduce legislation that makes upskirting a specific offence under the Sexual Offences Act 2015.
Campaigner Gina Martin has been a driving force behind the call for legislation change, after she was the victim of upskirting at a London music festival last summer.
She was shocked to be told by police that, after a man took a photograph up her skirt, he hadn’t committed a crime. So she started on online petition to #StopSkirtingTheIssue, that brought in over 100,000 signatures and received support from cross-party MPs.
Martin described the news on Monday as “brilliant.”
BREAKING NEWS: The Gov, @ryantwhelan and I are proud to announce that they will be introducing an #UpskirtingBill as a Government Bill, to ensure the gap in the law is closed. 🙌🙌🙌— Gina Martin (@beaniegigi) June 18, 2018
You can find my official statement on this insanely great news below.#upskirtbillpic.twitter.com/p3R7rGAO2d
“I kept going because I didn’t want to brush it off again and say ‘this is just part of life’,” she said. “I kept going because we needed a change.”
Martin’s lawyer, Ryan Whelan, said: “This is a great day, not only for women, but for all right-thinking individuals and justice itself.”
Chope, meanwhile, has spoken out in defence of his controversial decision. He said he supported the intention of the bill, but objected to it because he doesn’t believe legislation should be passed without debate.
“The suggestion that I am some kind of pervert is a complete travesty of the truth,” he said in an interview with the Bournemouth Echo, in which he said he had been “scapegoated”.
Global Citizen’s #LevelTheLaw campaign calls on world leaders to amend their legal systems to prevent sexual violence, to ensure justice and promote gender equality. You can join us by taking action here to put an end to laws that discriminate against women and girls around the world.