What is an SVRO?
A Serious Violence Reduction Order (SVRO) is a new type of civil order that courts in England and Wales can impose on a person (18+ years) convicted of an offence where a knife or offensive weapon was used or was present. SVROs can last for between six months (minimum) and two years (maximum) but can be renewed beyond that period.
SVROs provide the police with the discretionary power to stop and search someone subject to an SVRO at any time, any number of times, in a public place – without the usual need for ‘reasonable suspicion’.
When can courts impose an SVRO?
During criminal legal proceedings, the prosecution can make an application to the court for an SVRO to be imposed. Courts may impose an SVRO on a person convicted of an offence if it is satisfied on the ‘balance of probabilities’ (that is, that it was more likely than not) that a ‘bladed article or offensive weapon’ was involved in the offence in question. Courts can impose an SVRO regardless of:
- whether the weapon was actually used during the offence
- who used it (or was in possession of it), and
- regardless of whether the individual in question knew that such a weapon was present or was going to be used by another person.
The court must also consider that it is ‘necessary’ to grant an SVRO for any one of the following reasons:
- to protect the public from the risk of harm involving a bladed article or offensive weapon
- to protect any specific members of the public (including the person subject to the SVRO), or
- to prevent the person subject to the SVRO from committing an offence involving a bladed article or offensive weapon.
What areas will the SVRO pilot scheme cover?
The two-year pilot scheme, which will launch on Wednesday 19th April 2023, will cover four police areas: Merseyside, Thames Valley, Sussex, and West Midlands. During the pilot, only courts in these four areas can impose SVROs.
However, the corresponding SVRO stop and search power will be available to police officers across England and Wales. This means that if a person is given an SVRO in one of these four areas during the pilot, police officers can stop and search that person without the need for reasonable suspicion anywhere in England and Wales – not just within the pilot areas.
How could SVROs affect my stop and search rights?
The SVRO stop and search power can only be used on someone subject to an SVRO – it would be unlawful for a police officer to use this power on anyone else. If you have an SVRO, it is a criminal offence to tell a police officer otherwise when asked.
If you are subject to an SVRO, a police officer can stop, search, and detain you to determine whether you are carrying a knife any time you are in a public place. The officer ‘may use reasonable force, if necessary’ when exercising this power, and – crucially – does not need to have ‘reasonable suspicion’ that you are carrying a weapon.
Section 165 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 inserts provisions relating to SVROs into Part 11 of the Sentencing Code as ‘Chapter 1A: SVROs’, from sections 342A to 342L. Section 166 of the PCSC Act deals with the SVRO pilot scheme.
Section 342A of the Sentencing Code states that the prosecution in a criminal case can make an application to the court for an SVRO to be granted. An SVRO can then be imposed by the court if certain conditions are met (as outlined on page one). It is possible to appeal against the imposing of an SVRO ‘as if the order were a sentence passed on the offender for an offence’; it is also possible to appeal against the renewal or variation of an SVRO.
When an SVRO is imposed, the court must make clear ‘in ordinary language’ to the person subject to the order both the effects of the order and the associated stop and search powers available to a police officer while the order is in effect.
An SVRO sets out both positive and negative requirements: in other words, it requires the person subject to the order to proactively do certain things while also forbidding them from certain other behaviour.
A person subject to an SVRO must, within three days of the order taking effect, notify the police (either by attending a local police station or informing a police officer) of their name and any nicknames, their home address, as well as the addresses of any other premises at which they frequently reside.
Beyond those essential requirements, an SVRO may also impose ‘any requirement or prohibition specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State’ as long as ‘the court considers it appropriate for the order to impose the requirement or prohibition on the offender for the purpose of assisting [police] constables to exercise [their SVRO stop and search powers]’.
SVROs must have a fixed period of between six months and two years. The order can be varied, renewed, or discharged by the court on application from the person subject to the SVRO, the chief police officer for the area in which the person subject to the SVRO lives, the chief police officer for the area in which the original offence was committed, a chief police officer ‘who believes that the offender is in, or is intending to come to, the chief officer’s police area’, or the chief constable of the British Transport Police. When renewing or varying an SVRO, the court must again consider that it is necessary to do so to protect the general public, specific members of the public, or the person subject to the order from harm, or to prevent the person subject to the order from committing an offence involving a bladed article or offensive weapon.
As previously outlined, section 342E gives police officers the power to search and detain someone subject to an SVRO for the purpose of ascertaining whether that person has a bladed article or offensive weapon with them when in a public place. An officer may seize anything found during the search if the officer reasonably suspects it to be a bladed article or offensive weapon. The officer ‘may use reasonable force, if necessary’ for the purpose of exercising these powers. Searches must be done in a public place. The SVRO stop and search power ‘does not provide officers with any grounds to search anyone else accompanying [the person subject of the SVRO]’.
Although an SVRO is a civil order, according to section 342G, it is an offence for someone subject to an SVRO to fail to abide by the requirements of the order without reasonable excuse, to give false information to the police, tell a police officer that they are not subject to an SVRO, or to intentionally obstruct a police officer while exercising their stop and search powers. Violating the conditions of an SVRO is punishable by a prison sentence of up to two years, a fine, or both. If a person is convicted of an offence under this section, a court cannot authorise a conditional discharge under section 80 of the Sentencing Code.
In their 2019 election manifesto, the Conservative party promised to introduce ‘a new court order to target known knife carriers, making it easier for officers to stop and search those convicted of knife crime’. That commitment was realised through the inclusion of SVROs in the controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Act 2022.
The concept of SVROs first appeared in 2017, when centre-right thinktank the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) proposed the idea in their response to a Home Office consultation on acid attacks and offensive weapons. The CSJ elaborated on the idea of SVROs in a report published in 2018 called ‘It Can Be Stopped: A proven blueprint to stop violence and tackle gang and related offending in London and beyond’. In this report, under the heading ‘The law and order London needs’, the CSJ recommended that the government include provisions for SVROs – ‘a suspicionless stop and search order allowing police to search any ex-offender still on sentence’ – in the Offensive Weapons Act 2019.
The Offensive Weapons Act 2019 did not bring SVROs into force – instead, the Act introduced the slightly different, but closely related Knife Crime Prevention Order (KCPO). But two years later, following a public consultation carried out from 14 September to 8 November 2020, SVROs were brought in by the PCSC Act 2022 as one of several measures giving the police additional powers. The pilot will begin on the 19th April 2023.
Our concerns about SVROs can be summarised as the below key points:
- Firstly, it is unlikely that SVROs will be effective in achieving the government’s purported aims of increased deterrence, detection, and disruption in relation to offences involving a knife
- There are several problems with the SVRO pilot scheme, not least the fact the decision to roll out the SVRO stop and search powers to police officers nationwide during the pilot scheme undermines the very purpose of running a ‘pilot’
- Officers need to verify that a person is subject to an SVRO before exercising their stop and search powers on them, but it is not clear how police officers’ attempts to verify this would be balanced with the usual 'stop and account' rights of a person not subject to an order (that is, the right to withhold personal information from the police)
- SVROs dramatically expand police powers and police discretion, and remove crucial safeguards on these powers, at a moment in time when restrictions on police powers are sorely needed
- SVROs, and in particular the way they have been designed to be layered with other types of civil order, constitute a dangerous form of criminal justice net-widening, risking drawing more people into endless cycles of criminalisation and punishment
- SVROs will almost certainly disproportionately affect racialised groups in their application and impact: in particular, young Black people – as the Home Office have already admitted
- The lowering of evidential standards surrounding the legal decision to subject someone to an SVRO is part of a worrying trend of evidential slippage when it comes to ostensibly ‘civil’ orders and the criminal legal consequences of breaching them
- The scope of the legislation is extremely broad: SVROs are too easy for courts to impose, and the restrictions they can impose on an individual subject to the whims of the home secretary and others
- SVROs have the potential to exacerbate the problem of ‘guilt by association’, or ‘joint enterprise’, in the criminal justice system: an individual can have an SVRO imposed on them even if they were not using or carrying a weapon
- SVROs threaten people’s civil liberties and human rights by allowing police officers to arbitrarily detain and search people – specifically Articles 5, 8, and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights
The resources below are free to stream / download. Credit for the below 'know your rights' video goes to Bristol CopWatch and features its founder John Pegram.
Liberty also have a webpage with information about SVROs: What are Serious Violence Reduction Orders? - Liberty (libertyhumanrights.org.uk)
We will be publishing a more in-depth analysis of SVROs and adding it to this webpage as a downloadable resource in the very near future.
Please get in touch with us via our support form if you believe you have been unfairly treated by the police under Serious Violence Reduction Order powers: