Thanks to Mike for drawing this issue to my attention.
Now progressing through Parliament is the Private Member’s Bill “Protection from Sex-based Harassment in Public”. It is unusual for a Private Member’s Bill to go far, but this one has Government backing, as the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, has made clear. This might be because the sponsor, Greg Clark, has recently held a succession of ministerial positions. But it is sufficient that the Bill is about protecting women from nasty men (sorry, that was a tautology, wasn’t it?). Protecting women will always guarantee a huge majority, close to unanimous.
Of course, the Bill is strictly gender-neutral (was that a snort of derision at the back, there?). It isn’t, though: not in the Home Secretary’s mind at least. Braverrman announced to the HOC the intended change to the law saying, “perpetrators who stop women feeling ‘safe’ will face the ‘consequences they deserve’”.
Will the Bill, if passed, make something a criminal offence that was not before?
The Bill proposes an amendment to Section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986. This relates to causing someone intentional harassment, alarm or distress in a public place.
A person is guilty of an offence under this 1986 legislation if, with intent to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress, he uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting. [The wording of the Act uses the male pronoun for the perpetrator, but such pronouns in Acts are generally understood to be inclusive of either sex. It’s worth noting that this is one context in which the usual obligation to use “she” has been waived].
It is rather a gift to an authoritarian regime’s use of the courts to bolster their ideological position if crimes can be defined for which no physical evidence is required that the offence has even occurred. Sexual crimes, based as they are on consent, are a case in point. Here we have another example, as “alarm” and “distress” are confined within the mind of the alleged victim. In any case, the judicial precedent is that harassment is not required to cause distress in order to be criminal.
Quoting R. (R.) v DPP  EWHC 1375 (Admin), law blogger Quentin Hunt, wrote, “the Court held that “distress” requires genuine emotional upset or disturbance. While this need not be very serious, it should not be trivialised”. However, he noted that later decisions have held that there was no need for the act to be likely to lead to some kind of real emotional disturbance or upset. “Harassment” has been held to be able to be experienced without any real emotional disturbance or upset.
So, what about the new Bill?
The necessary requirement for a act to be criminal under the new Bill is that it meets the definition of an offence already under Section 4A of the Public Order Act.
The sole purpose of the new Bill is to raise the seriousness of certain offences under Section 4A. These offences will be those that meet the criterion that the offence was carried out “because of the person’s sex (or presumed sex)”.
In effect, being “based on sex” is an aggravation of an existing Section 4A offence.
And what does this mean? It means the maximum penalty is increased from 6 months in prison to 2 years in prison.
You may recall the “debate” about creating a specific misogyny hate crime. This is, in effect, it – albeit in another guise.
Just another step in the ever-expanding criminalisation of men’s every act. Bad, but not as bad as the post to follow shortly.