Taking secret photos underneath someone's clothes without their consent, otherwise known as "upskirting", could soon become a crime in England and Wales, the government has suggested.
Justice Secretary David Lidington told MPs he was taking the issue "very seriously" after more than 64,000 people signed a petition calling for the practice to be made illegal, the Guardian reported. Taking "upskirting" and "downblousing" photos was outlawed in Scotland under the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009.
Upskirting was put on to the news agenda this summer by Gina Martin, 25, who started an online campaign calling for it to be made illegal when a man took an upskirt photo of her at British Summer Time festival in London's Hyde Park. The police said they were unable to press charges against him because it wasn't "a graphic image", she said.
When asked by Labour's shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon, yesterday whether he would throw his weight behind Martin's campaign, Lidington said: “I have taken very seriously the representations made by Gina Martin and from some of the police and crime commissioners."
He said he had "asked for detailed advice" on the matter, before adding that: "Before proceeding to a commitment to new legislation, I want to be absolutely certain that this would be the right course to take.”
However, Burgon, who revealed he had signed Martin's petition himself, called Lidington's response "disappointing". He said there was "no need for the Conservative government to delay in guaranteeing that there will be a change to the law", adding that a change in the law is urgent.
“Any further delays will see justice being denied to the too-many women already suffering from this disgraceful practice.”
Martin is campaigning for section 67 of the Sexual Offences Act to be edited so that upskirt photos, also known as "creepshots", are classed as a sexual offence. Promisingly, some lawyers have spoken out in support of her campaign, with Simon Myerson QC saying last month that "making upskirting a specific offence would be helpful".
"I would try to work it around a definition of voyeurism. At the moment it involves watching other people engaging in sexual activity," he said, adding that he would want a definition that made it clear it was illegal to "[take] photos of someone’s underwear or private parts – making sure to be careful to exclude swimwear and tight leggings etc or you get into a murky situation – ... unless the person gave their express consent.”