Restraining orders

Thousands of people are victims of domestic violence, harassment, stalking or sexual assault. If you need to protect yourself from an offender, it may be necessary for you to get a restraining order from the judge. Here is everything you need to know about restraining orders and how to get one.

Restraining orders (also known as non-harassment orders in Scotland) are court orders issued by a judge at the end of criminal proceedings to prevent someone from causing harm to someone else, in situations involving domestic violence, harassment, stalking or sexual assault.

Restraining orders put restrictions on the offender, for the purpose of refraining them from causing further trouble to the victim.

In the UK, restraining orders can only be issued during criminal proceedings, so in order to get a restraining order against someone, you must first report them to the police and then take them to court.

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

Restraining orders are most commonly imposed in the context of domestic violence, to protect victims from abusive partners. For example, restraining orders can 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 needs to be made against a known person. This means that, for example, a restraining order cannot be made against someone who is making anonymous harassing phone calls.

Restraining orders 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.

The conduct prohibited by a restraining order will depend upon the type of offence committed by the defendant.

Restraining orders can include:

  • Not getting in direct or indirect contact with the victim.
  • Keeping away from a property or premises.
  • Staying a certain distance away from someone.

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

Breaching the terms of a restraining order is a criminal offence which can lead to a fine and imprisonment for up to five years. The sentence imposed will depend on whether there is a single or multiple breaches , whether violence was used and whether there was a high level of harm or anxiety caused.