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What is a restraining order?

Restraining orders (similar to non-harassment orders in Scotland) are orders issued by a court. They are issued at the end of criminal proceedings (as opposed to civil proceedings, eg cases in family court) to prevent the defendant (ie the person who was prosecuted for a criminal offence) from causing harm to someone else (eg the victim of their crime). Restraining orders are mostly commonly found in situations involving domestic violence, harassment, stalking, or sexual assault.

Restraining orders put restrictions on the defendant to stop them causing further trouble to the victim or others by protecting them from harassment or conduct that causes them to fear violence. The exact conduct prohibited by a restraining order will depend upon the type of criminal offence committed by the defendant. For example, restraining orders may:

  • prohibit direct or indirect contact with someone

  • require that someone keeps away from a property or premises

  • require that someone stays a certain distance away from another person

For information on other types of orders that can protect victims of domestic violence, harassment, staking, or sexual assault - such as non-molestation orders and occupation orders - read Domestic violence legal remedies.

How can I get a restraining order?

In the UK, restraining orders can only be issued during or following criminal proceedings. They can be requested by the prosecutor (ie the public authority that tries to prove that someone is guilty) or by the victim of a criminal offence. However, the final decision to make a restraining order lies with the court. In order to get a restraining order against someone, you must:

  • report them to the police, and

  • they must be taken to court for a criminal offence 

Any person convicted or acquitted of a criminal offence can be subject to a restraining order. This means that such orders can be imposed even if the defendant is found not guilty of the crime they’re accused of. Restraining orders are preventive and protective measures, so they can be granted as long as the court considers that the victim needs specific protection.

Restraining orders are commonly imposed in domestic violence situations to, for example, protect victims from abusive partners. 

Restraining orders may, for example, be directed towards:

  • someone you are, or have been, in an intimate relationship with

  • a family member, or

  • someone you’re living or have lived with

An application for a restraining order can be made against a ‘known person’. This means that a restraining order cannot be made, for example, against someone who is making anonymous harassing phone calls to you.

How long does a restraining order last for?

There is no set time limit for a restraining order. It can last for a specified period of time or for an indefinite period (ie until further order from the court). However, if the court allows, a restraining order may be varied or discharged (ie ended) upon request of the prosecutor, the defendant, or any other person named in the order.

What happens in case of a breach of the restraining order?

Breaching the terms of a restraining order without a reasonable excuse is a criminal offence and can lead to a fine and/or imprisonment for up to 5 years. The sentence imposed will depend on whether there are single or multiple breaches, whether violence was used, and whether there was a high level of harm or anxiety caused.

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