Under section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015, which came into force on 29 December 2015, it is now a crime to use coercive or controlling behaviour on another person. It is hoped that this will help victims of domestic abuse which stops short of physical violence as they can now seek protection under this new offence.
Under the new offence, victims of controlling or coercive behaviour which causes extreme psychological or emotional harm can bring the perpetrator to justice. Examples of such behaviour includes a pattern of threats, humiliation and intimidation, stopping a partner from socialising, controlling social media accounts, surveillance through phone apps and dictating how a person dresses.
“Coercive or controlling behaviour” has been defined to mean behaviour which causes someone to fear that violence will be used against them on at least two occasions or serious alarm or distress which has a substantial effect on their usual day-to-day activities. It is likely that the definition of what is or isn’t such behaviour will be amended over time as prosecutions are brought on this basis.
When reviewing cases, prosecutors will be trained to look at the overall effect of the coercive or controlling behaviour on the victim and the cumulative impact of such behaviour will be considered. In addition, prosecutors will consider the pattern of the behaviour within the context of the relationship.
The penalty under the new offence is up to 5 years’ imprisonment, a fine or both
Minister for Preventing Abuse and Exploitation Karen Bradley said; "Our new coercive or controlling behaviour offence will protect victims who would otherwise be subjected to sustained patterns of abuse that can lead to total control of their lives by the perpetrator. We are sending a clear message that it is wrong to violate the trust of those closest to you and that emotional and controlling abuse will not be tolerated."
The new offence comes amidst a background of rising rates of referrals, prosecutions and convictions for domestic violence. Convictions for domestic violence are now at their highest ever level.
Nicola Whitley, Senior Associate and Head of Family Law at Swain & Co Solicitors says, “I am pleased to see that victims of domestic abuse are now gaining more protection under criminal law. Previously, it was very difficult to secure a conviction if you were a victim of coercive or controlling behaviour which amounted to emotional abuse. This is therefore a step in the right direction.”