Understanding Sexual Harm Prevention Orders (SHPOs)

Sexual Harm Prevention Orders (SHPOs) are an important aspect of the legal system in the United Kingdom when it comes to dealing with individuals who have been convicted of relevant sexual offences. These orders are typically issued by the court during sentencing for offenders who have pleaded guilty or have been found guilty of such offences. In this article, we will provide an informative overview of what SHPOs entail, their purpose, and key considerations surrounding their implementation.

What Triggers an SHPO?

There is a specific list of sexual offences that can trigger the court’s discretion to impose an SHPO. This includes offences involving sexual contact, as well as cases where there has been no direct contact, such as individuals convicted of making or possessing indecent images of children.

The Purpose of an SHPO

For a court to issue an SHPO, it must be satisfied that it is necessary to protect the public or specific individuals from sexual harm caused by the defendant. The order aims to prevent further incidents and safeguard the community.

Drafting and Conditions of an SHPO

In most cases, the prosecutor serves a draft copy of the proposed SHPO to the defence and the court. This draft outlines the proposed terms and conditions of the order. According to the Criminal Procedure Rules, the draft order should be served on the defence and court within two days of the application hearing.

The order is prohibitive in nature and typically includes various conditions and restrictions that the prosecution considers necessary. It is crucial for the terms of an SHPO to be proportional and not oppressive, allowing sufficient time for the court and the defence to review and consider them.

Duration and Proportionality

The duration of an SHPO should be specified in the draft order. It is no longer acceptable to assert that the order should be indefinite. The Court of Appeal has intervened in cases where orders were made without notice or based on an indefinite basis.

In the case of Pickard et al (2017), the Court of Appeal criticised the original sentence where an SHPO was made without notifying the defence and for an indefinite period. The court restricted the SHPO to a 10-year term, aligning it with the length of reporting restrictions on the Sexual Offences Register.

Considerations for Non-Contact Offences

In cases where the offenses do not involve direct contact with a child or victim, such as possession or making of indecent photographs, the necessity of an SHPO must be properly argued. The court can only issue an order if it is necessary for public protection. It may require a leap of faith for the court to be satisfied that an order with terms restricting access to children or specified persons is necessary when no contact occurred in the original offences.

Seeking Professional Advice

Navigating the complexities of SHPOs requires expert legal advice, especially for individuals facing applications or already subject to these orders. It is essential to ensure that a fair, proportionate, and appropriate order is in place. Law firms specializing in defending individuals accused or convicted of sexual offences, including those involving indecent images, can provide valuable expertise and guidance. If you are subject to an SHPO or facing criminal charges where one may be considered, reaching out to legal professionals can help you understand your rights and options. 


Remember, understanding the implications of SHPOs is vital for both defendants and the public to ensure fair and effective measures are in place to protect individuals from sexual harm.