A restraining order is issued by the courts to protect a person against the actions of another individual where those actions amounted to domestic violence, stalking, harassment or sexual assault.
For this reason, they are often brought about to protect the victim of domestic abuse from someone with whom they have been in an intimate relationship; perhaps a family member or someone you have lived with.
Depending on the type of order obtained and the risk posed to the victim, an order may prevent the offender from getting in contact with the victim, either directly or indirectly, keeping distance from a particular property, or physically staying away from the victim.
What is a restraining order?
In the UK, Section 12 of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 deals with the protection of victims of abuse and allows the courts to grant orders keeping the offender away from the victim where there is sufficient evidence the victim would be at risk otherwise.
The order must be issued by a judge following criminal proceedings against someone but can only be granted where there is “sufficient evidence” that the person seeking the order is in danger.
Although the court must be convinced ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’ of a criminal intention, restraining orders can be granted regardless as to whether the defendant is found guilty or acquitted of the general crimes of which they are accused.
The CPS advises that restraining orders are generally issued when someone is “convicted of an offence of harassment… or an offence of putting someone in fear of violence.”
Who can apply?
In the UK, restraining orders are issued during criminal offence sentencing, so the victim needs to first report the defendant to the police and take them to court in order to obtain an order. Orders can be requested by the prosecutor (for example the police or other public authority) or directly by the victim of the offence.
The person against whom the proceedings are being brought has a right to be heard by the court before any order can be issued and the final decision will always be made by the court.
How long do they last?
Restraining orders in the UK do not have any set time limits as to duration, so an order can be issued for as long as the court deems necessary. They do not cost anything to obtain in the UK, so anyone who is in fear of violence can be adequately protected.
Although there are no set limits on the duration of a restraining order, they can be amended or discharged by the court if the prosecutor, defendant or anyone else named in the order requests it.
What if the order is broken?
If someone breaches the terms of their restraining order, they will be in breach of court – which is a criminal offence – and can be fined or be imprisoned for up to 5 years.
Once the order has been issued, the victim will be given a copy and it is always advisable for them to carry this with them so that if the defendant breaches the terms of the order, it can be easily shown. Should the order be lost or destroyed, the court will be able to issue another copy.
If the abuser does breach the restraining order, the victim should call the police immediately so that criminal charges can be filed.