On 11th April this year the Voyeurism (Offences) Act 2019 came into force. This piece of legislation serves to amend the Sexual Offences Act 2003 by inserting new sections criminalising what is commonly known as ‘up- skirting’. You may remember that the issue briefly made headlines when the Private Members Bill preceding the legislation was blocked on its way through the House of Commons.
1. What is ‘up- skirting’?
Up-skirting is the act of taking a voyeuristic photograph or video underneath an individual’s clothes without their consent.
2. Was this not an offence before the new legislation came into force?
Whilst not a specific offence in and of itself, certain instances of up- skirting could be prosecuted under existing pieces of legislation, for example under the common- law offence of ‘outraging public decency’ or under existing voyeurism offences in the Sexual Offences Act 2003. However, there were long-standing concerns that the law was not fit for purpose, requiring the act to occur in a ‘public place’ and in the presence of at least two other individuals to be prosecuted as outraging public decency, with a prosecution under the Sexual Offences Act for ‘voyeurism’ requiring that the victim ‘be observed doing a private act in a place which, in the circumstances, could reasonably be expected to provide privacy’.
3. What does the new law say?
The new law makes it a specific offence for a person (A) to ‘operate equipment’/ record an image beneath the clothing of another person (B) to observe B’s genitals, buttocks or underwear without B’s consent and for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification (for either themselves or a third party) or for the purpose of humiliating, alarming or distressing B. In straightforward terms, if you take a photograph or video underneath another person’s clothes without their consent then you could be guilty of a criminal offence.
4. What are the penalties if found guilty of up- skirting?
A person found guilty of up- skirting risks a maximum prison term of 6 months, a fine or both if sentenced in the Magistrates Court. If sentenced in the Crown Court, the maximum possible prison term is 2 years. Offenders may also be required to sign the Sex Offenders Register.
5. What protections are available for complainants in court proceedings?
Complainants will be entitled to automatic reporting restrictions which, in practice, means lifetime protection from being identified in the media.
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