Sexual harm prevention orders (SHPO)- What are they in UK law?

7th July 2019 | Sex Offences|
Nick Titchener headshot

Nick Titchener

Director & Solicitor Advocate

In Brief

If someone is considered to pose a risk of sexual harm to the public or an individual, they can be given a SHPO (sexual harm prevention order). This follows a previous conviction or caution for offences including rape, sexual assault of a child and incest, and the restrictions imposed can include travel bans, prevention of certain types of employment and limited internet use. It lasts for at least five years, and can be mentioned in future criminal proceedings indefinitely.


Nick Titchener, director and solicitor advocate at Lawtons, a specialist criminal defence law firm in London, discusses sexual harm prevention orders (SHPOs) and their implications – such as addition to the Sex Offenders’ Register and restrictions on your living arrangements and ability to travel.

What is a sexual harm prevention order in UK law?

A sexual harm prevention order (SHPO) is a measure given by the magistrates’ court or crown court to a person who poses a risk of sexual harm to either the general public or an individual person.

An SHPO can be made in relation to a person who has been convicted or cautioned for a sexual offence listed in either Schedule 3 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, including:

  1. Rape
  2. Sexual assault of a child
  3. Incest

or an offence against Schedule 5 of the Act, including:

  1. Murder
  2. Manslaughter
  3. Kidnapping

The offence can take place either in the UK or abroad.

When is an SHPO issued?

An SHPO is imposed either when an offender is being sentenced, or following a complaint made about a person previously convicted or cautioned of a sexual offence where their behaviour suggests they may reoffend and it is deemed necessary to prevent this.

A full risk assessment of the person in question must be carried out before an SHPO is imposed. Anyone who has been convicted or cautioned, received a reprimand, final warning or youth caution for a relevant offence can be considered for an SHPO if they are thought to be posing a threat.

Those as young as 10 years old, – which is the age of criminal responsibility – can be given an SHPO. Where the offender is under the age of 18, an application for an SHPO should only be considered in exceptional cases. The making of an SHPO for a juvenile is extremely rare.

To make an SHPO, the court must be satisfied that the offender presents a risk of sexual harm to the public and that an order is necessary to protect against this risk.

If an SHPO is made you will be prohibited from doing anything set out in the order. These requirements should only be made due to necessity of:

  1. Protecting the public or any particular members of the public from sexual harm
  2. Protecting children or vulnerable adults generally, or as individuals, from sexual harm outside the UK

Prohibitions can be wide ranging and include preventing travel overseas, restrictions on undertaking certain forms of employment and limiting internet use by the offender.

How long does a sexual harm prevention order last?

An SHPO lasts for a minimum of five years and has no maximum length. The exception is any foreign travel restrictions stated in the order, which must be renewed after five years.

What other implications are there if you recieve an SHPO?

An SHPO is recorded on the police national computer and will remain there indefinitely. An order can be mentioned in future criminal proceedings even after the order has become spent.

Whilst the order is unspent you must you must disclose it to an employer, education institution or insurance provider. Once the order is spent you will not have to disclose this information unless potential employment is exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.

If a you are not already listed, you will be added to the Sex Offenders’ Register, which in turn leads to further prohibitions such as disqualification from working with children and being subject to notification requirements for the duration of the order.

The notification requirements mean you must register with the police within three days of your conviction, release from prison or SHPO enforcement and you must notify the police of a change in name, address or if you have any plans to travel outside of the UK. If you fail to comply with the notification requirements, it is an offence.

What happens if you do not comply with the sexual harm prevention order?

If you breach any regulations set out in the SHPO you will face a separate penalty and risk a term of  imprisonment. If you have been convicted of such an offence at a magistrates’ court you will be liable for up to six months’ imprisonment, a fine or both. If you have been convicted on indictment in a crown court you will be liable to up to five years’ imprisonment.

Can you appeal a sexual harm prevention order?

It is possible for you to appeal against the making of an SHPO or to apply to vary it, just as it is possible for the police to apply for the order to be varied, renewed or discharged. If you are applying to discharge your order entirely you must demonstrate a change in circumstances and it is recommended that you seek expert legal advice as soon as possible.

The team of specialist sexual offence solicitors at Lawtons are able to apply their expertise to deal with an SHPO  and the issues that may arise. If you need expert legal advice on the specifics of your case, contact us to see how we can help you achieve the best outcome.

About the author

Nick Titchener, director and solicitor advocate of Lawtons, is a dedicated criminal solicitor with considerable experience in legal cases including sexual offences, violence and assault. Nick’s measured and methodical approach means he thrives on even the most complex case.

Nick also oversees the overall management of Lawtons Solicitors, a specialist firm of criminal law defence solicitors with branches across London, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Essex.

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