Protection from Sex-based Harassment in Public Bill

Explanatory Notes

Policy background

3 The Government’s Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy 1 , published in July 2021, stated that the Government was looking carefully at where there may be gaps in existing law concerning sexual harassment in public places (‘public sexual harassment’) and how a specific offence for public sexual harassment could address those. It noted that this was a complex area, and that it was important to take the time to ensure that any potential legislation is proportionate and reasonably defined.

4 In its report on hate crime legislation 2 , published on 7 December 2021, the Law Commission recommended that the Government undertake a review of the need for a specific offence of public sexual harassment, and what form any such offence should take. It noted that it is worth considering whether a bespoke public sexual harassment offence could represent a better targeted response to public sexual harassment than hate crime legislation.

5 On 22 March 2022, during Lords consideration of Commons amendments to the then Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, the Home Office Minister Baroness Williams of Trafford informed Peers that by the summer recess the Government would launch a consultation on whether there should be a specific offence of public sexual harassment. 3

6 On 21 July 2022, the Government launched a targeted consultation 4 on:

whether a specific offence of public sexual harassment should be created;

if so, what form it should take; and

what, if any, non-legislative measures additional to those described in the consultation document the Government should take to tackle public sexual harassment.

7 The consultation stated that in the view of Ministers public sexual harassment behaviour is covered by existing criminal offences. It suggested two possible options (with draft clauses) for what such an offence might look like, both involving aggravated sentencing for behaviour committed under section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986 if carried out because of the victim’s sex. One of the two options included an illustrative list of some of the types of behaviour which might be covered.

8 The consultation closed on 1 September 2022, and received responses from 25 of the targeted recipients, as well as 285 other responses.

9 On 8 September the Government published its response to the consultation. 5 The response confirmed that the Government considered that an offence of public sexual harassment should be introduced, and that its preferred option was the one which did not include an illustrative list of types of behaviour. The response stated that the Government’s reasons for preferring that option were because such lists of behaviour types can become prescriptive, can rapidly become out of date as new types of behaviour emerge, and, although they are illustrative only, in practice can have the effect of ruling out other types of behaviour from being considered. This Bill, which would introduce an offence modelled on the relevant option within the consultation, was published on the same day.

10 The aim behind an offence is to prevent sexual harassment in public places and to ensure effective enforcement when it does happen, an issue of growing public concern. Public sexual harassment can affect all people, but it disproportionately affects women. It is envisaged that a new offence would cover behaviour such as:

a. following a person (for example, deliberately walking closely behind someone as they walk home at night);

b. making an obscene or aggressive comment towards a person;

c. making an obscene or offensive gesture towards a person;

d. obstructing a person making a journey; and

e. driving or riding a vehicle slowly near to a person making a journey.

 

Prepared 23rd June 2023