domestic violence law controlling or coercive behaviour locked

Controlling or coercive behaviour

1 in 7 reported crimes are domestic abuse related.

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In my view this law is as messy as a dog’s dinner. It is relatively new legislation that was introduced to cover a wide range of alleged misdemeanours that individually would not necessarily attract criminal liability. Many of the examples of behaviour are relatively minor but when added together and multiplied can give rise to a criminal charge of controlling or coercive behaviour.


From a victim point of view it is an incredibly easy offence to report, because it is domestic related and potentially serious the Police will give it priority and arrest or voluntarily interview a suspect under caution at the Police Station and the investigations often take months, leaving the suspect in limbo indefinitely, often subject to strict bail conditions and ultimately a charge and a court case.


For suspects, police investigations and Court hearings can have a dramatic impact on day to day living. Access to the family home and to children is often restricted and any caution or conviction can affect employment as it would remain on the police national computer and may be disclosed on a DBS check.


Disputing these allegations and building a defence is like navigating a minefield. How evidence is presented can lead to the case being dropped entirely or a charge for this offence or another linked offence such as assault, criminal damageharassmentstalkingthreats to kill, breach of protective order, social media offences and public order offences.


Evidence could also help defend an application for a Domestic Abuse Protection Order (DAPO), Restraining Order or Non-Molestation Order.

Key points for suspects

If it is alleged you have committed this offence the risk of being arrested is high, but the chances of being charged with this offence are low, however, avoiding prosecution requires a robust evidence-based defence case to be built to undermine the allegations made. This can speed up the removal of restrictive bail conditions and have seized property such as mobile phones and computers returned.


There remains the risk of being charged with alternative overlapping offences such as harassment, social media, public order and communications offences. It is also plain that any evidence gathered in a prosecution investigation could also provide evidence to support an application for a Domestic Abuse Protection Order (DAPO), Restraining Order or Non-Molestation Order in favour of the victim.


Good legal advice is essential at an early stage. If you are accused of controlling or coercive behaviour Book an appointment or Contact me. ​

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Controlling or coercive behaviour explained

The definition of the law itself is incredibly wordy, it say that controlling or coercive behaviour occurs in an intimate or family relationship which causes someone to fear that violence will be used against them on at least two occasions; or causes them serious alarm or distress which has a substantial adverse effect on their usual day-to-day activities.


Controlling or coercive behaviour is defined as:

  • Coercive behaviour is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.


  • Controlling behaviour is a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.


So, to put that into practice, an offence is committed if:


  • A person repeatedly or continuously engages in behaviour towards another person, that is controlling or coercive; and

  • At time of the behaviour the persons are personally connected; and

  • The behaviour has a serious effect on the other person; and

  • The suspect knows or ought to know that the behaviour will have a serious effect on the other person.


The persons are 'personally connected' if:

  • They are in an intimate personal relationship; or

  • They live together and are either members of the same family; or

  • They live together and have previously been in an intimate personal relationship with each other.


There are two ways in which it can be proved that behaviour has a 'serious effect' on the other person:

  • If it causes the other person to fear, on at least two occasions, that violence will be used against them; or

  • If it causes the other person serious alarm or distress which has a substantial adverse effect on their day-to-day activities


For the purposes of this offence, behaviour must be engaged in 'repeatedly' or 'continuously'. Another, separate, element of the offence is that it must have a 'serious effect' on someone and one way of proving this is that it causes someone to fear, on at least two occasions, that violence will be used against them. The prosecution should be able to show that there was intent to control or coerce someone.


The phrase 'substantial adverse effect on the other person’s usual day-to-day activities' may include, but is not limited to:


  • Stopping or changing the way someone socialises

  • Physical or mental health deterioration

  • A change in routine at home including those associated with mealtimes or household chores

  • Attendance record at school

  • Putting in place measures at home to safeguard themselves or their children

  • Changes to work patterns, employment status or routes to work


For the purposes of the offence the suspect 'ought to know' that which a reasonable person in possession of the same information would know.


It is a serious offence that carries a penalty of up to 5 years in prison. Ancillary orders can be applied for upon sentence or acquittal e.g. a restraining order.


Examples of controlling or coercive behaviour

Examples include:


  • Isolating a person from their friends and family

  • Depriving them of their basic needs

  • Monitoring their time

  • Monitoring a person via online communication tools or using spyware

  • Taking control over aspects of their everyday life, such as where they can go, who they can see, what to wear and when they can sleep

  • Depriving them access to support services, such as specialist support or medical services

  • Repeatedly putting them down such as telling them they are worthless

  • Enforcing rules and activity which humiliate, degrade or dehumanise the victim

  • Forcing the victim to take part in criminal activity such as shoplifting, neglect or abuse of children to encourage self-blame and prevent disclosure to authorities

  • Financial abuse including control of finances, such as only allowing a person a punitive allowance

  • Control ability to go to school or place of study

  • Taking wages, benefits or allowances

  • Threats to hurt or kill

  • Threats to harm a child

  • Threats to reveal or publish private information (e.g. threatening to 'out' someone)

  • Threats to hurt or physically harming a family pet

  • Assault

  • Criminal damage (such as destruction of household goods)

  • Preventing a person from having access to transport or from working

  • Preventing a person from being able to attend school, college or University

  • Family 'dishonour'

  • Reputational damage

  • Disclosure of sexual orientation

  • Disclosure of HIV status or other medical condition without consent

  • Limiting access to family, friends and finances


Defences explained

It is a defence to show:


  • That in engaging in the behaviour in question, the suspect believed that he or she was acting in the other person’s best interest; and

  • The behaviour in all the circumstances was reasonable.


The key requirement is for a suspect to refute the allegations by providing evidence to discredit the allegation, highlighting the lack of control of the victim and demonstrating the independence of the victim within the relationship.


 Types of evidence used to prove or disprove the offence include:


  • Copies of emails

  • Phone records

  • Text messages

  • Evidence of abuse (or not) over the internet, digital technology and social media platforms

  • Photographs

  • 999 tapes or telephone message transcripts

  • CCTV

  • Police officer body worn video footage

  • Records of interaction with services such as support services,

  • Medical records

  • Witness testimony, for example the family and friends of the parties

  • Local enquiries: neighbours, regular deliveries, postal, window cleaner etc

  • Bank records to show financial control or freedom

  • Previous threats made to children or other family members

  • Diaries kept by the parties

  • Victims account of what happened as given to the police

  • Evidence of isolation (or not) such as contact between family and friends, or participation from activities such as clubs

  • GPS tracking devices installed on mobile phones, tablets, vehicles etc.,


Even where there is a decision to take no further action the police often advise victims to take steps to gather further records to support any future investigation.


Alternative charges

Note that even if controlling or coercive behaviour isn’t charged there is still a real possibility that other offences can be investigated and charged, these offences include offences such as assaultcriminal damage, harassment, stalking, social media offences, breach of protective orderthreats to kill and public order offences. Evidence gathered could also be used to support or refute an application for a Domestic Abuse Protection Order (DAPO), Restraining Order or Non-Molestation Order.


Even where victims do not want to pursue a criminal justice route the prosecution can contemplate the possibility of proceeding without the complainant's support.


Interaction with harassment or stalking

There is a difference between the offences of controlling or coercive behaviour and those involving harassment or stalking.


Like controlling or coercive behaviour, offences of stalking and harassment can involve a course of conduct or pattern of behaviour which causes someone to fear that violence will be used against them on at least two occasions, or which causes them serious alarm or distress to the extent it has a substantial adverse effect on their day-to-day activities.


The offence of controlling or coercive behaviour has been introduced specifically to capture abuse in an ongoing relationship where the parties are personally connected.


Stalking and harassment offences can be considered if the victim and the suspect were previously in a relationship but no longer live together. These offences can also be charged in relation to activity that takes place between people who do not know each other and may never even have met one another.


There may be instances where the relationship status of the victim and suspect change a number of times. It is the status of the relationship at the time the offending behaviour was alleged to have taken place which is relevant.


Controlling or coercive behaviour is a complicated area of law. Good legal advice is essential at an early stage.