Chief Crown Prosecutor welcomes new domestic abuse law to fight controlling or coercive behaviour

29/12/2015

Domestic abusers who subject victims to controlling or coercive behaviour could face up to five years in jail under a new law which comes into force today (29 December 2015), said CPS East of England Chief Crown Prosecutor Jenny Hopkins, the CPS national champion on Violence Against Women and Girls.

She said: "Controlling and coercive behaviour is an insidious crime which can have a devastating and long-lasting impact on the lives of victims and I am pleased we have a new weapon to fight those who demonstrate this behaviour.

"The new offence is best understood as outlawing harm caused by a pattern of abusive behaviour and there is new legal guidance and training for prosecutors which makes it clear that it is not about isolated actions and does not infringe upon the dynamics of normal, healthy, relationships.

"The legal guidance also provides practical advice on how prosecutors should approach this new offence, including the types of evidence which might be particularly relevant, and on understanding the behaviour of perpetrators."

The new legislation will mean the CPS can for the first time prosecute specific offences of domestic abuse if there is evidence of repeated, or continuous, controlling or coercive behaviour.

This type of abuse in an intimate or family relationship can include a pattern of threats, humiliation and intimidation; behaviour such as stopping a partner socialising and dictating what they wear; controlling their social media accounts; limiting access to family, friends and finances; surveillance through tracking apps on mobile phones.

The cumulative impact of the controlling or coercive behaviour within the relationship is crucial. Controlling or coercive behaviour causes someone either:

  •  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.

Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, said: "Controlling or coercive behaviour can limit victims' basic human rights, such as their freedom of movement and their independence. This behaviour can be incredibly harmful in an abusive relationship where one person holds more power than the other, even if on the face of it this behaviour might seem playful, innocuous or loving.

"Victims can be frightened of the repercussions of not abiding by someone else's rules. Often they fear that violence will be used against them, or suffer from extreme psychological and emotional abuse. Being subjected to repeated humiliation, intimidation or subordination can be as harmful as physical abuse; many victims state that trauma from psychological abuse had a more lasting impact than physical abuse.

"These new powers mean this behaviour, which is particularly relevant to cases of domestic abuse, can now be prosecuted in its own right. Police and prosecutors are being trained to recognise patterns of abusive behaviour which can be regarded as criminal abuse. We will do everything in our power to tackle this abhorrent crime."

Ms Hopkins said: "The introduction of this new law will give us a powerful tool in the fight against domestic violence and is a significant milestone in the way the criminal justice system is committed to bringing the perpetrators of these abusive, intimidating acts to justice."

ENDS

NOTES TO EDITORS

1. In the CPS 2014-15 report for Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG), CPS East of England had an overall conviction rate of 80% for VAWG and a conviction rate of 80.6% for domestic abuse.

2. The new law is under Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 -controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship. The Government has defined this type of behaviour 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

3. A person guilty of an offence under Section 76 is liable:

  • On conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or a fine, or both;
  • On summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or a fine, or both.

4. You can find out more information at the CPS legal guidance on controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship: http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/a_to_c/controlling_or_coercive_behaviour/