‘Upskirting’ to be banned under new harassment laws

Bill agreed by Cabinet will also ban revenge porn and create specific offence of stalking

A new Bill banning so-called “revenge pornography” and “upskirting” is set to be agreed by Cabinet on Wednesday.

Government Ministers are holding a meeting in Cork city on Wednesday where they will discuss the new law, which deals with harassment and harmful communications.

The Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan, will seek Government approval to amend previous laws, which would also expand the definition of “communications” to include all online contacts such as, for example, an iMessage, WhatsApp or Facebook message amongst others.

The Bill provides for new offences dealing with non-consensual distribution of intimate images with intent to cause harm or distress, more commonly known as “revenge pornography”.

There is currently no legislation to address revenge porn in Ireland. Revenge porn is the common name for sharing photos or videos of a sexual nature of another person without their consent.

Intimate images

It will also be an offence to take and distribute intimate images without consent, whether or not there is intent to cause harm or distress.

An existing offence of sending threatening or indecent messages will be expanded to apply to all threatening, false, indecent and obscene messages using any form of online communications.

A specific offence of stalking will be introduced as stalking-type behaviour is currently prosecuted under the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997.

Once Government approval is secured, the Office of Parliamentary Counsel will begin drafting the provisions in order to bring it before the Dáil as soon as possible.

As well as a new offence to deal with the phenomenon of “revenge pornography”, the law will also provide for a separate offence to deal with another image-based offence, “upskirting”.

Upskirting is the act of taking a photograph of underneath a person’s skirt without their consent.

Gaps in legislation

The Law Reform Commission published a report in September 2016 which identified a number of gaps in the legislation, including in relation to revenge porn.

It found such abuses could have a substantial impact on a person, and could be linked to serious psychological harm.

The commission also proposed a statutory code of conduct for the digital industry in Ireland.

The commission proposed that a new and extended offence could carry, on summary conviction, the maximum penalties of a class A fine, currently a fine not exceeding €5,000, and/or up to 12 months’ imprisonment; and, on conviction on indictment, an unlimited fine and/or up to seven years’ imprisonment.

The Department of Justice and Equality had begun preliminary work on its own legislation in this area, following the 2016 report.

However, the Government agreed to stop working on its own Bill and instead accept a similar Bill from Labour party leader Brendan Howlin. Mr Flanagan’s officials have been working with Mr Howlin and the Attorney General, Séamus Woulfe, to agree proposed amendments to the Bill.