Sex-Based Harassment Bill

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 [2006] 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.

5 thoughts on “Sex-Based Harassment Bill

  1. Labour_is_Bunk

    Near to Christmas 30 years ago when working on the reception photocopier, I was subject to an attempted grope by a receptionist who’d been indulging a little too freely at lunchtime (she was well known for it), and old enough to be my mother into the bargain. I pushed her away and called her a thing or two and for my pains was ticked off for “grumpiness”.

    Fast forward to now, and I don’t think my chances of redress would have improved – even with this wonderful new Bill…..

    1. Nigel

      Interestingly I read a story about a Male football fan being groped by a drunk female. Though she got the inevitable suspended sentence if does show that it is possible to get the police and CPS to apply the law. Not that I advocate such window dressing laws but males should be encouraged to push such cases, if only to clog the courrs with such trivia. Them maybe the Police in particular will be less keen on wandering into this minefield of policing such trivia.
      As for the longer sentences given on the same day there were reports of an “overwhelmed” Prison estate again practicality will probably reduce the effect to a few cases as “examples”.

  2. J Johnson

    The purpose of this type of legislation is generate vexatious litigation against men and to harass men by forcing them to incur significant legal fees and time defending themselves. The definition is hugely vague and ambiguous, allowing any vindictive woman to make an allegation fits into the definition. As noted, no physical evidence required. Men will have to prove their innocence, as usual. This is not a civil offense, it is a criminal offense, which means the accusing woman gets the police to work on her behalf and the Crown Prosecution Service lawyers to work on her behalf, all free of charge. Even if the case fails, the accused man is left having been “punished” by the police and CPS for having dared raised his voice against a woman, who is always to be treated by the courts as “vulnerable” (children with adult faces).
    Would someone like to generate a letter for all of us to send to our MPs asking they reject this bill?


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