Wera's Private Members Bill successfully made 'upskirting' a specific criminal offence. She introduced it to Parliament on the 6th March 2018, two days before international women's day. The aim was to do something lasting for women to mark the occasion.
Upskirting is the practice of taking a photo from beneath someone without their knowledge or consent. The issue was championed by campaigner Gina Martin after falling victim to the practice at a music festival.
There was a gap in the law: it didn't cover upskirting in many circumstances. It could be prosecuted under outraging public decency, but this relies on other people being able to see the photo, not the act itself. Voyeurism laws fell down if the victim wasn't in a private place; there was nothing to protect victims in crowds for example.
The bill reflected legislation in Scotland which was introduced in 2009, and covers all acts of upskirting, regardless of the gender of the victim.
The bill was supported by celebrities such as Holly Willoughby, Laura Whitmore and Dermot O’Leary; many celebrities fall victim to upskirting by the paparazzi. It was also supported by Police and Crime Commissioners, campaigners and other politicians.
During the campaign a poll was run by ITV, which indicated 96% of the public support the move.
The bill had a interesting ride through Parliament. Its second reading was moved from the 11th of May to the 15th of June, to give the Ministry of Justice time to iron out details before committing fully to the bill. It then received support from the Minister for Women, Victoria Atkins as well as Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice Lucy Frazer. It also received tacit support from the PM.
On Friday the 15th of June, the bill to make upskirting a specific criminal offence was read to the chamber. Famously, Tory MP Christopher Chope objected and subsequently blocked the bill. Cries of ‘shame’ rang out, followed by a media storm and national outrage. Wera wrote about that day here.
Chope had been lobbied by Wera herself, as well as his peers to make him see sense before the reading, but to no avail. True to form, he also blocked bills on the same day to make it illegal to stab police dogs and to give carers free parking at hospitals.
Wera worked very closely with the government to get ensure that the bill passed through the commons with no hiccups, contributing cross party to discussions about amendments.
On the 15th of January 2019, the bill to make upskirting a specific criminal offence passed it’s final Parliamentary hurdle, passing through its third reading in the House of Lords. On the 14th of February, the bill gained the formality of Royal Assent and passed in to law.
The closing of this loophole in the law is a victory for the rights of women up and down the country. It will give security and peace of mind to all those who have been affected, and offer clear legal protection for all moving forwards.
Finally, this vile practice will be legislated against across the whole of Great Britain, and will see perpetrators face up to two years in prison.