One of today’s more unusual news stories involves the case of John O’Neil, the man acquitted of rape but then placed under a so-called Sexual Risk Order (SRO) – which requires him to notify police 24 hours before he intends to start an intimate relationship.
The former IT consultant claims police have told him they will visit prospective sexual partners to inform them of his previous acquittal for rape. Unsurprisingly, Mr O’Neill says he hasn’t had a sexual relationship since.
Lawyers and civil rights experts have expressed major concerns about the order, which appears to restrict his freedoms even though he has not been convicted of a crime.
So what exactly is an SRO and how can it be imposed on someone who has no criminal record?
The SRO can be sought by the police against an individual who has not been convicted or cautioned for a sexual offence but who is still considered by the police to pose a risk of harm.
But while it’s a civil order, failure to comply is a criminal offence, punished with a fine or imprisonment of up to five years.
The probability threshold is lower than that required in a criminal court, meaning police can successfully apply for an SRO using the same evidence presented at trial despite an acquittal.
The effects of the order – as witnessed in this case – can be catastrophic.
Those placed under an SRO face the humiliation of publicity, restrictions on their contact with their children and a huge obstacle in their attempts to form intimate relationships.
Mr O’Neil says the decision has also prevented him from working and says he is now living rough in woods near York.
Much like anti-social behaviour orders, SROs were designed to be prohibitive, not to warn others of someone’s past. The order is almost impossible for police to effectively monitor and might be said to be a highly disproportionate restriction on the ability of an individual to have a private life.
How can our Criminal Law Solicitors help?
Gotelee acts for anyone in any walk of life who is being investigated. Our Criminal Law solicitors are renowned throughout Suffolk and East Anglia for being able to minimise the impact and achieve a positive outcome.
Gotelee Solicitors, which has offices is Ipswich, Hadleigh, Felixstowe and Woodbridge, has a specialist team of Criminal Law lawyers who are able to help clients who are on the receiving end of the power of the state – whether it be the police, a government department or agency, or a local authority.
To find out more, call us on 01473 298141 or email [email protected]