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

Reviewed by Nick Titchener on 23rd August 2023

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Nick Titchener

Managing Partner

In Brief

If someone is considered to pose a risk of sexual harm to the public or an individual, they can be given a sexual harm prevention order (SHPO). The SHPO replaced the SOPO.

What is a SOPO? Well, prior to March 2015, they were known as sexual offences prevention orders (SOPO). Post March 2015 they are known as sexual harm prevention orders (SHPO).

The SHPO is a court order that can be requested by the police, normally following a previous conviction or caution for offences. This includes a range of offences such as rape, sexual assault of a child, those concerning indecent images of children and incest. The restrictions imposed can include travel bans, prevention of certain types of employment and limited internet use. The SHPO 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:

  • Rape
  • Sexual assault of a child
  • Making, possession or distribution of indecent images of children
  • Incest

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

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

When is a 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 creation of an SHPO for a juvenile is extremely rare in the Youth Court but more common if the case is being dealt with in the Crown Court.

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

What are common SHPO restrictions?

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

Other conditions might prevent the offender from:

  • Contacting the victim
  • having unregulated access to mobile phones or cameras
  • Deleting Apps or programmes or internet history from mobile devices or computers 
  • Visiting places where large numbers of children might be, like parks or play centres
  • Visiting leisure facilities like swimming pools
  • Entering a house where somebody under 16 years old is present
  • Attending other locations, such as the place where the offence happened
  • Working somewhere where under-18s are present

In addition, the offender might have to attend sex offender rehabilitation programmes as part of any Probation managed Court Order.. They may be required to report relationships with people who live with under-18s. And they could be subject to a curfew, meaning they have to remain at home between set hours.

Does a sexual harm prevention order require guilt?

Not in every situation. An SHPO may be given regarding any person who has ‘been convicted, found not guilty by reason of insanity or found to be under a disability and to have done the act charged or cautioned for an offence listed in either Schedule 3 or 5’ of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

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 breach a 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 for 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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