I represent Gina Martin, the 26-year-old who founded the campaign to make upskirting a specific sexual offence under English law. Last Friday, much to the dismay of his colleagues, Sir Christopher Chope blocked a bill in support of Gina’s campaign. When he shouted ‘object’, Chope was not then aware of the detail of the bill, the furore his decision would cause – or indeed what upskirting actually was.
Chope has now written for The Spectator and given interviews to the Times and ITV News, as well as his constituency paper the Daily Echo. His position remains that his objection to the upskirting bill has nothing to do with its merits but is instead due to two points of principle. Firstly, Chope argued that minister Lucy Frazer’s announcement that the bill would be supported by the government effectively turned the private members’ bill into a government bill; this meant that the private members’ bill procedure should not be used. Secondly, he said, the bill had not been debated and so it would be wrong to let it proceed.It is here that Chope is wrong: the second reading of a bill is the stage at which the Commons should approve its general principles, with scrutiny on its detail following at a later stage. There may be discussions to be had about the precise drafting of the bill, but the general principle of criminalising upskirting is not in dispute. No MP – not even Chope – has come forward to oppose this.
That Chope shouted down a bill without educating himself as to the subject, the extent of support or the level of consultation on its terms is rather remarkable. What he would have found out with any level of inquiry is that there is no question that there is a gap in the law on upskirting (between outraging public decency and voyeurism); and the current law is in any event inappropriate, because outraging public decency (most frequently used) neither reflects the harm to the victim nor the sexual nature of the offence.