Proposals for new powers aimed at increasing the range of protective measures that can be used for children who have suffered or are at risk of suffering sexual abuse have been the subject of further consideration in Parliament. The proposals form part of the Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill.

The proposals will, in effect, bring in replacements for existing powers but significantly they seem likely to lower the level of harm or risk that needs to be demonstrated and it will no longer be necessary to show that the risk is serious.

If the proposals are brought in they will enable courts to issue a “Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Order” where there has been a conviction or caution for sexual or violent offences or a “Sexual Risk Order” that may be applied to any individual who poses a risk of sexual harm. These proposed orders could therefore be issued even where a defendant had no previous convictions for offences provided that there is sufficient evidence of the danger they pose to children.

The plans for the new orders were originally introduced by MP Nicola Blackwood, she commented on the idea that these proposals could lead to such orders being used as an alternative to a criminal prosecution: “They are simply a practical necessity to sit alongside prosecution. As a civil order they’re no different in nature from other orders that are designed to protect children, such as an injunction or a restraining order in a family court.”

Nonetheless the proposals do have their critics, Lib Dem Julian Huppert who sits on the Home Affairs Select Committee added a note of concern: “We do need to protect children. We need to do it in a way that will actually work, that will not cause us problems, and an important principle is that people do not get jailed based on anything less than the criminal standard of proof.”

The Government has indicated, via Home Office Minister, Damian Green that at least some elements of the proposals are likely to be taken forward and that raises the possibility that Sexual Harm Prevention Orders and Sexual Risk Orders will find their way into the legal framework in one form or another in the future.

If the proposals are ultimately accepted it can be expected that Sexual Harm Prevention Orders could be used to impose a range of restrictions upon any individual convicted of or cautioned for sexual offences. In addition the proposed Sexual Risk Orders may in theory be applied to anyone who poses a risk of causing sexual harm in the UK or abroad.
This may include imposing restrictions upon an individual, perhaps by limiting their internet use, preventing them from being alone with a child under 16, or preventing travel abroad.

If brought in the Sexual Harm Prevention Order will likely last a minimum of five years but significantly with no maximum duration; By contrast a Sexual Risk Order would be in place for a minimum of two years but again with no maximum duration. The new orders would in principle only be implemented with the support of the Magistrate’s Courts.

As can be seen, these proposals are wide ranging but given that fact it remains hard to see how they will be practically applied. It may take a great deal of time, perhaps seeing these proposed orders in practice before a clear understanding of how they may work is possible. The level of evidence that a court may demand before imposing such an order is likely to be high but how that will work in cases where there is no prior conviction or caution is less certain.

The proposals in their current form highlight the difficult task of balancing the clear and evident need to protect children against the practical considerations of imposing and enforcing such orders. It remains to be seen how these proposals will be adapted and developed and whether they will help form a stricter level of protective measure that can be used to safeguard children in the future.

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