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Sexual Offences Articles

A Guide to Sexual Harm Prevention Orders (SHPO) in the UK

Justice - Criminal Defence Lawyers | Stuart Miller Solicitors

If you are subject to a sexual harm prevention order (SHPO), it is important that you understand what this means and what your obligations are. A SHPO is an order made by a court that can restrict your behaviour in order to protect the public from sexual harm. If you or someone you care about has been made subject to a SHPO, getting a clearer understanding of what that means and what happens next is crucial to your mental health and well-being during this challenging time. In this article, we will explain what SHPOs are, how SHPOs are administered (i.e. what the conditions of a SHPO are, and how you get put under one), and what happens if you don’t comply with them.

What is a sexual harm prevention order (SHPO)?

A sexual harm prevention order (SHPO) is an order made by a court that places restrictions on a person’s behaviour in order to protect the public from sexual harm. SHPOs are made under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and can last for any length of time, depending on the specific terms of the order.

Any person who has been convicted or cautioned of a sexual offence under either Schedule 3 or Schedule 5 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 can be subject to a SHPO.

  • Schedule 3 offences include: rape; sexual assault of a child; making, possession or distribution of indecent images of children; and incest.
  • Schedule 5 offences include: murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, and false imprisonment.

The fact that the Schedule 5 offences do not automatically relate to sexual offences is irrelevant here. The judge can place someone under a SHPO if they have a history of these Schedule 5 crimes because there is so often an overlap between violent and sexual crimes.

Note that it does not matter whether these offences took place in the UK or abroad for the purposes of imposing a SHPO.

When is a SHPO made?

As mentioned, a SHPO may be imposed on anyone who has a conviction of a crime under Schedule 3 or 5 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. As for when the SHPO order is actually made, that can vary.

The court may impose a SHPO at the time of convicting someone, or they may impose one at a later date (such as when someone is released from prison and the public need to be protected against any potential reoffending). It is also possible for the police or other government agencies to apply for someone to be placed under a SHPO by the courts, should circumstances warrant that.

What are the conditions of a SHPO?

SHPOs can include a wide range of restrictions, such as:

  • prohibiting the person from contact with certain individuals, including children
  • prohibiting the person from entering certain locations, such as schools or playgrounds
  • requiring the person to notify the police of any change to their personal details, such as their name and address
  • prohibiting the person from using the internet or possessing certain items, such as computers or smartphones

What is the difference between a SOPO and SHPO?

A sexual offences prevention order (SOPO) is the old name for a SHPO. Nowadays, SHPOs have taken over from SOPOs, so any new orders made in this respect are done so under the SHPO legislation, not the older SOPO legislation.

What happens if you break a SHPO?

If you breach the terms of your SHPO, you can be arrested and brought back to court. The court will then decide whether to impose a more stringent set of restrictions on you.

If you are found to have breached your SHPO on more than one occasion, or if the court believes that you pose a serious risk to the public owing to the behaviour that brought you back to court, you may be sent to prison.

It is therefore extremely important that you take your SHPO seriously and adhere to its terms and conditions at all times. If you are unsure about anything, it is best to seek legal advice from a qualified sexual offences solicitor who has proven experience dealing with SHPO procedures and regulations.

How long does a SHPO last?

Under the criminal law of England and Wales, a SHPO can last for an indefinite period of time. If that is prescribed by the judge, the SHPO is said to be given ‘until further order’, meaning until the judge says otherwise. That said, most SHPOs are given for a fixed length of 5 years.

Can children be given a SHPO?

Incredibly, yes. Children as young as 10 years old can be subject to a SHPO. That said, judges are extremely careful in placing children under the SHPO restrictions because there are such serious consequences for those with a history of any sexually inappropriate behaviour. Anyone under the age of 18 who has been placed under a SHPO needs to get specialist advice throughout the entirety of their case to try to ensure the best outcomes and maintain some level of stability and normalcy in the child’s life.

How do I get off SOPO? Can a SHPO be removed?

It is common for people to ask about getting off a SOPO, or a SHPO to use the more modern term. The fact is, it can be extremely difficult to have a SHPO lifted once it has been put in place.

The onus is on the person who is subject to the SHPO to prove to the court that they are no longer a risk to the public and should therefore have the restrictions of their SHPO lifted. This is not an easy task, and usually requires extensive evidence such as psychiatric reports, character references, and behaviour change programmes.

It is worth noting that it is ultimately up to the court to decide whether to revoke the SHPO entirely. If the court revokes your SHPO, you will no longer be subject to its terms and conditions.

How long does SHPO stay on your criminal record in the UK?

A SHPO will stay on your criminal record indefinitely. This means that it will always show up on background checks, and can have a significant impact on your ability to travel, work, or rent a property. If you are subject to a SHPO, it is important to disclose this to any potential employer, as failing to do so could mean that you are dismissed from your job if they find out later down the line.

Do I have to declare a SHPO?

If you are subject to a SHPO, you must declare this to the police whenever you are asked to do so. This includes if you are stopped and asked for your name and address, or if you are arrested and asked about any existing orders against you. You should also declare your SHPO to any potential employer, as failing to do so could result in dismissal from your job if they find out later down the line.

Can a SHPO be amended?

As mentioned, it can be incredibly difficult to get a SHPO removed once it has been issued. However, it is possible for the terms and conditions of a SHPO to be amended if there has been a change in circumstances. For example, if you have completed a rehabilitation programme or successfully held down a job for a period of time, you may be able to have the restrictions of your SHPO eased.

It is important to note that any changes to a SHPO must be approved by the court, and it is ultimately up to the judge to decide whether or not to grant any easing of conditions. Bear in mind that putting someone under a SHPO in the first place is a very serious consideration by a judge, so they are unlikely to change their mind unless there have been truly meaningful changes in the person’s situation.

When can you apply for a SHPO?

Generally speaking, individual members of the public do not cause someone to be put under a SHPO. That being said, they can inform the police of any suspicious behaviour that might indicate that such a person could be a harm to the public.

Usually, SHPOs are issued when someone has been convicted of a sexual offence, or another violent offence that falls under Schedule 5 of the Sexual Offences Act. The court will have all available evidence in front of them to decide whether or not to issue the order, taking into account the seriousness of the offence and whether there is a risk of harm to the public if the offender is not subject to such restrictions.

Where to get more help with a SHPO?

If you need help navigating the complexities of a SHPO, look no further than the criminal defence experts at Stuart Miller Solicitors. Our team have decades of experience helping individuals with sexual crimes and prevention orders of this nature. There is nothing to be ashamed about: you deserved representation no matter what you did or didn’t do. Get in touch with our team today for a non-judgemental consultation about your options.


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