The Protection from Sex-based Harassment in Public Bill is a private member’s bill which is due to receive its second reading in the House of Lords on 16 June 2023. The bill has completed its passage through the House of Commons, where it was sponsored by Greg Clark (Conservative MP for Tunbridge Wells). It is being sponsored in the Lords by Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Conservative).

The bill would make provision for a new offence of causing intentional harassment, alarm or distress to a person in public where the behaviour is done because of that person’s sex. It would do this by inserting a new section into the Public Order Act 1986. Those convicted of this offence would face increased penalties when compared with the current offences regarding intentionally causing harassment, alarm or distress.

The government supports the bill and the Home Office prepared the bill’s explanatory notes. The bill has cross-party support.

Statistics show that both men and women experience sex-based public harassment, such as receiving unwanted sexual comments from a stranger, being followed, or being insulted or shouted at by a stranger in public. The figure is higher for women, and particularly for women aged 16 to 34 years old; half of women in this age range reported being harassed in the last 12 months.

Concern about public sexual harassment is not new. The House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee published a report on the subject in 2018. There have also been calls by charities and parliamentarians to create a specific offence of public sexual harassment. In December 2021, the Law Commission published a report on the potential for reforming hate crime laws and making misogyny a hate crime. It concluded that the hate crime model was not appropriate but called on the government to carry out a review of the need for a specific offence of public sexual harassment. The government subsequently ran a consultation on the issue, publishing a response in December 2022. It concluded that the best means of creating a specific offence of public sexual harassment would be through amending the Public Order Act 1986.

The bill was amended during committee stage in the Commons by Greg Clarke, to ensure that the new offence was listed in three other acts. For example, it would ensure that those convicted of the new offence would face the same sanctions under the Football Spectators Act 1989 as they would for a conviction for the current offence of intentionally causing harassment, alarm or distress. Mr Clarke also successfully put forward a new clause at report stage to require the secretary of state to provide the police with guidance about the new offence, and in particular the defences that could be used against it.

The legislation mainly applies to England and Wales. However, certain changes to the other acts, such as the Police Act 1997, will also cover Scotland.


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