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Controlling or Coercive Behaviour in an Intimate or Family Relationship

updated: 24 April 2023|Legal Guidance, Domestic abuse


Section 76 Serious Crime Act 2015 (SCA 2015) created the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship (CCB). It can be tried summarily or on indictment and has a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment. The guidance emphasises:

  • the importance of identifying this crime, even when other crimes are being investigated
  • how to approach the selection of charges when dealing with conduct which overlaps stalking, harassment and CCB
  • putting before the court all relevant evidence, including revisiting previous allegations not proceeded with, if necessary
  • the importance of charging individual incidents in addition to CCB, especially where they attract a maximum penalty of, or more than, 5 years’ imprisonment, and
  • the relevance of a case strategy which considers acceptable pleas and how the case is to be put (and reflected in the charge or indictment) from the outset

Prosecutors should also apply:

The support and safety needs for victims should be identified from the outset and continually considered throughout the life of a case, by the police in dialogue with the prosecutor. Where available this should also be informed by any specialist support the victim is receiving. For example, through an Independent Domestic Abuse Advisor (IDVA) or an Independent Stalking Advocacy Caseworker (ISAC). Improving a victim's safety is important. It may help to raise their confidence in the criminal justice system and facilitate their participation in the investigation and prosecution process.

CPS Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy

The Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Strategy provides an overarching framework for crimes identified as being primarily committed, but not exclusively, by men against women within a context of power and control.

The offence of controlling or coercive behaviour, and other prosecutions related to domestic abuse, should be addressed within the overall framework of VAWG and human rights. The patterns and dynamics involved in these cases need to be understood in order to provide an appropriate and effective response. Though most victims of VAWG offences are women, the CPS recognises that some offenders will be women, non-binary or identify in a different way and some victims will be men, non-binary or identify in a different way.

All references in this guidance are gender neutral and are applied to all suspects and victims of crime irrespective of gender, or sexual orientation, in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors.

Refer to the CPS Domestic Abuse prosecution guidance for further information about the gendered approach to prosecutions.

Evidential considerations

Section 76 SCA 2015 provides that an offence is committed by a suspect (“A”) against a victim (“B”) if:

  • A repeatedly or continuously engages in behaviour towards another person, B, that is controlling or coercive
  • at the time of the behaviour, A and B are personally connected
  • the behaviour has a serious effect on B, and
  • A knows or ought to know that the behaviour will have a serious effect on B

"Repeated or continued behaviour that is controlling or coercive"

A pattern of CCB can be well established before a single incident is reported. In many cases the conduct might seem innocent – especially if considered in isolation of other incidents – and the victim may not be aware of, or be ready to acknowledge, abusive behaviour. The consideration of the cumulative impact of CCB and the pattern of behaviour within the context of the relationship is crucial. This approach will support the prosecutor to assess effectively whether a pattern of behaviour amounts to fear that violence will be carried out; or serious alarm or distress leading to a substantial adverse effect on usual day-to-day activities.

Building on examples within the Statutory Guidance Framework, relevant behaviour of the suspect can 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
  • using digital systems such as smart devices or social media to coerce, control, or upset the victim including posting triggering material
  • 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 – this can be intertwined with the suspect saying it is in their best interests, and ‘rewarding’ ‘good behaviour’ e.g. with gifts
  • depriving them of 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
  • economic abuse including coerced debt, controlling spending/bank accounts/investments/mortgages/benefit payments
  • controlling the ability to go to school or place of study
  • taking wages, benefits or allowances
  • threatening to hurt or kill
  • threatening to harm a child
  • threatening to reveal or publish private information
  • threatening to hurt or physically harming a family pet
  • assault
  • physical intimidation e.g. blocking doors, clenching or shaking fists
  • criminal damage (such as destruction of household goods)
  • preventing a person from having access to transport or from working
  • preventing a person from learning or using a language or making friends outside of their ethnic or cultural background
  • family ‘dishonour’
  • reputational damage
  • sexual assault or threats of sexual assault
  • reproductive coercion, including restricting a victim’s access to birth control, refusing to use a birth control method, forced pregnancy, forcing a victim to get an abortion, to undergo in vitro fertilisation (IVF) or other procedure, or denying access to such a procedure
  • using substances such as alcohol or drugs to control a victim through dependency, or controlling their access to substances
  • disclosure of sexual orientation
  • disclosure of HIV status or other medical condition without consent
  • limiting access to family, friends and finances
  • withholding and/or destruction of the victim’s immigration documents, e.g. passports and visas
  • threatening to place the victim in an institution against the victim’s will, e.g. care home, supported living facility, mental health facility, etc (particularly for disabled or elderly victims

This is not an exhaustive list and prosecutors should be aware that a suspect will often tailor the conduct to the victim, and this conduct can vary to a high degree from one person to the next. Prosecutors should consider the conduct of the suspect in each individual case to assess whether it discloses controlling or coercive behaviour. There is plainly overlap with stalking and harassment.

There might be confusion about where the ‘appropriate’ dynamic of a relationship ends and where unlawful behaviour begins. One way of considering this is describe by The College of Policing Authorised Professional Practice on Domestic Abuse which sets out that: “In many relationships, there are occasions when one person makes a decision on behalf of another, or when one partner takes control of a situation and the other has to compromise. The difference in an abusive relationship is that decisions by a dominant partner can become rules that, when broken, lead to consequences for the victim.”

Prosecutors should consider the impact on the victim of following, or not following, rules imposed upon them within the wider context of the relationship, where this type of behaviour has occurred within the relationship. It is not necessary for the prosecutor to prove that consequences follow, not least because the fear of consequences is just as powerful. This is intended as a tool by which to recognise a controlling or coercive relationship, rather than a ‘point to prove'.

Prosecutors should also refer to the following guidance:

"Personally connected"

A suspect and victim are personally connected if

  • they are, or have been, married to each other
  • they are, or have been, civil partners of each other
  • they have agreed to marry one another (whether or not the agreement has been terminated)
  • they have entered into a civil partnership agreement (whether or not the agreement has been terminated)
  • they are, or have been, in an intimate personal relationship with each other
  • they each have, or there has been a time when they each have had, a parental relationship in relation to the same child, or
  • they are relatives

“Intimate personal relationship” is not defined in statute. Therefore, the ordinary dictionary meaning of the words should be adopted. While many intimate personal relationships will involve a sexual relationship this is not a requirement.  It can also include relationships where some other form of personal or emotional intimacy exists, for example if the victim and suspect are dating, or share a bed. The key question is intimacy: the victim and suspect do not have to cohabit nor have a particular form of relationship.

Prior to 5 April 2023, “personally connected” was limited to

  • a suspect and victim in an intimate relationship, or
  • cohabitation combined with either (i) a past intimate relationship or (ii) membership of the same family

This was amended by section 68 Domestic Abuse Act 2021 which removes the cohabitation requirement and focuses on the relationship instead. The amendment is not retrospective and so will not cover CCB prior to 5 April 2023. 

"The behaviour has a serious effect on the victim"

This element can be proved in one of two ways. The prosecutor need only prove one or the other:

  • firstly, where the behaviour causes the victim to fear violence on at least two occasions (section76(4)(a) SCA 2015), or
  • secondly, the serious alarm and distress caused by the suspect’s behaviour has had a substantial adverse effect on the victim’s usual day to day activities (section 76(4)(b) SCA 2015)

For the purposes of this offence, the behaviour or the activities must be carried out “repeatedly” or “continuously”. There is no requirement, however, that the activity should be of the same nature.

Examples of substantial adverse effect on the victim could include:

  • physical or mental health deterioration
  • no longer socialising or withdrawing from activities such as physical exercise
  • needing to put in place measures at home to safeguard themselves or their children, including CCTV
  • self-harming
  • no longer eating properly
  • putting in place measures in their home to safeguard themselves or their children
  • changing working patterns, employment status or routes to work

Prosecutors should assess the impact on the victim by recognising the cumulative impact of a pattern of abuse.

"Assessing the evidence of serious effect"

There should be no assumption as to what a ‘typical’ victim might look like or behave like when assessing the evidence as to “serious effect”. Victims may respond to abuse in several ways including consuming drugs or alcohol, and/or by showing signs of humiliation, detachment, anger, and retaliation. Victims may also interpret abuse very differently including expressing feelings of guilt; this might depend on their social or cultural context. Victims can be resilient in some respects: it is important not to compare them to other victims but to consider how their day-to-day life has been affected. Refer to the CPS Domestic Abuse prosecution guidance  for further advice on self-defence and issues relevant to particular groups.

CCB can be overlooked as victims might be seen as colluding or consenting to the behaviour. In some circumstances the victim may not be aware or be ready to acknowledge, least of all be ready to report, that they are being abused. Collusion or consent might be best understood as ways of coping or adapting to the abuse. Victims may also do this to try to reduce the risk that they or their children may face from the suspect. Changes in the victim’s appearance may indicate that they are subject to coercive or controlling behaviour, whether by wearing clothing or cutting hair to appease the suspect or a loss of weight. Other reasons why CCB may not be identified early or reported, include feelings of self-blame or first responders on call outs not asking the right questions to adduce the cumulative harm caused in the relationship. Prosecutors should be alert to this forming part of the history of the case when it comes to the CPS for a charging decision and ensure that they have had sight of the full risk assessment.

"A knows or ought to know that the behaviour will have a serious effect"

For the purposes of the offence the suspect “ought to know” that which a reasonable person in possession of the same information would know: section 76(5) SCA 2015.


Sections 76 (8) to (10) SCA 2015 provide a defence in relation to section 76 4(b) SCA 2015 (behaviour causing serious alarm or distress which has a substantial adverse effect on their day-to-day activities), namely it is a defence to show that in engaging in the behaviour in question, the suspect believed that they were acting in the victim’s best interest; and that the behaviour in all the circumstances was reasonable.

The suspect is to be taken to have shown this if they raise sufficient evidence of the facts adduced to raise an issue with respect to them; and the contrary is not proved beyond reasonable doubt.

This defence is not available in relation to section 76 (4) (a) SCA 2015 (behaviour that causes the victim to fear on at least two occasions that violence will be used against them).

Is it in the public interest to prosecute?

Paragraph 4.14 of the Code for Crown Prosecutors sets out the factors a prosecutor must address in their review when considering whether it is in the public interest to proceed with a prosecution.

It does not automatically follow that if there is sufficient evidence, there will always be a prosecution. A prosecution will usually take place unless there are public interest factors tending against prosecution that outweigh those tending in favour. Given the seriousness of domestic abuse, prosecution of controlling or coercive abuse will normally be required when the evidential requirements under the Code are met. There are, however, many factors, which may influence consideration of the public interest in prosecution.

Where the evidential stage has been met, but in circumstances where a victim is not willing to support a prosecution, prosecutors will need to carefully consider the interests and safety of the adult and child victim, other family members and other dependents when assessing whether a prosecution is in the public interest, whether to seek a witness summons and whether to pursue a prosecution without the support of the victim. More information about the approach to follow can be found in the CPS Domestic Abuse prosecution guidance .

Extra-territorial jurisdiction

The common law provides jurisdiction to try this offence where a substantial measure  of the activities constituting a crime take place within England and Wales, save where it can seriously be argued on a reasonable view that these activities should, on the basis of international comity, be dealt with by another country. This means that incidents which form part of repeated or continued behaviour may be charged as part of CCB even if not all of them occur within the jurisdiction.

In cases where the entirety or majority of the offending takes place outside England and Wales it may still be tried when committed by UK nationals and those habitually resident in England and Wales. For more information prosecutors should refer to the Jurisdiction legal guidance.

Support for victims

From the outset of a case, prosecutors should have regard to support for the victim when advising the police. They may ask the police to :

  • establish whether the victim’s needs have been, or can be, assessed by specialist domestic abuse services including Independent Domestic Violence Advisors (or their equivalent)
  • identify what special measures would maximise the quality of the witness’ evidence, especially given the challenges in providing a clear and coherent account a victim of CCB may have: see further, the Special Measures prosecution guidance
  • consider whether a prosecution could proceed without the support of the victim
  • confirm what ancillary orders should be sought.

Where available victims should be signposted to specialist support agencies as well as statutory agencies to ensure risk management plans are put into place.

The police should advise the victim how to keep themselves safe and to keep information in relation to incidents. In addition, they should also signpost the victim to specialist domestic abuse services. A list of support organisations can be found at Annex E of the CPS Domestic Abuse prosecution guidance .

Gathering Evidence and Case Building

Gathering evidence to build a robust prosecution case should focus on the wider pattern of behaviour and on the cumulative impact on a victim. The investigation may reveal evidence of substantive offences, such as physical or sexual assault, but even if the police investigation is not focused on CCB, prosecutors should be alive to whether a wider pattern of abuse should be investigated and prosecuted as CCB. A victim may not know the full extent of a suspect’s conduct, for instance if they were being monitored without their knowledge.

Prosecutors must always consider, from the outset, the possibility of proceeding without the victim’s support. The case strategy addressing this must be recorded within the prosecutor’s review. For further information regarding evidence led prosecutions, prosecutors should refer to the CPS Domestic Abuse prosecution guidance .

The Statutory Guidance Framework outlines a non-exhaustive list of the types of evidence that could be used to prove the offence of CCB. The following list builds on the examples provided in the Statutory Guidance:

  • phone records, text messages and device logs (whilst ensuring limited disruption, if any, for the victim and not risking further harm)
  • evidence of abuse over the internet, digital technology (e.g. smart speakers) and social media platforms
  • copies of emails
  • photographs of injuries such as: defensive injuries to forearms, latent upper arm grabs, scalp bruising, clumps of hair missing
  • photographs of damage to property such as broken doors, holes in plasterboard, doors pulled from cupboards or signs of forced entry into rooms
  • 999 tapes or transcripts
  • CCTV and home video footage – e.g. smart doorbells
  • body-worn video footage
  • lifestyle and household evidence documenting, for instance, changes to the victim’s behaviour and routine. This could include evidence of isolation such as lack of contact between family and friends, victim withdrawing from activities such as clubs, suspects accompanying victims to medical appointments and the victim withdrawing from support services
  • records of interaction with services such as support services
  • medical records
  • bank records to show financial control
  • previous threats made to children or other family members
  • suicide threats from the suspect e.g. via text, email, or postings on social media or multi-media sites
  • abusive postings on public platforms e.g. YouTube
  • any diary kept by the victim
  • GPS tracking devices installed covertly an/or overtly on mobile phones, tablets, vehicles etc
  • where the suspect has carer responsibility, the care plan might be useful as it details what funds should be used for e.g. caring for a child, caring for a parent or a sibling

Prosecutors must also refer to the CPS Domestic Abuse prosecution guidance which provides further guidance on gathering evidence and case building including advice on charging, consideration of previous domestic abuse incidents (bearing in mind that these may need to be reappraised as the controlling or coercive elements may not have been taken into account), serial offenders, risk assessments and risk indication checklists.

Reconsidering prosecution decisions as part of CCB

When considering previous domestic abuse incidents prosecutors may come across various situations such as:

  • where the specific incident has been previously reviewed by the police or CPS and a decision made to take no further action
  • the matter was charged but the victim then withdrew their support at the time and the case could no longer proceed without their participation so was discontinued
  • it has been reported previously but not charged as the victim withdrew their support

The above is not an exhaustive list of situations and others may arise.

As a general rule, an earlier decision not to prosecute an individual charge, for instance of assault, is no bar to charging CCB and including that incident as part of the evidence of CCB. CCB is a different offence. It requires proof of repeated and continued behaviour, which by definition is wider than the single incident. The decision not to prosecute the single incident does not amount to a decision, let alone a representation or promise, that the suspect will not be charged with CCB.

However, in a situation where a previous decision not to charge or proceed is being revisited, prosecutors must apply section 10 of the Code for Crown Prosecutors and the prosecution guidance on Reconsidering a Prosecution Decision. In particular, prosecutors should ask:

  • whether significant evidence (in particular, that relevant to CCB) has come to light since the original decision
  • whether the original decision was wrong and a prosecution should be brought in order to maintain confidence in the criminal justice system

Revisiting earlier incidents in these circumstances may be said by the defence to be an abuse of process. Prosecutors should consider the prosecution guidance on Abuse of Process . In particular it may assist to consider:

  • whether in fact the defence are arguing that evidence of an earlier incident ought to be excluded, pursuant to section 78 Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (“section 78”), rather than a stay ordered. If the defence take issue with only part of the evidence of CCB, a stay may not be the appropriate remedy. Prosecutors should resist the section 78 application on the same principles, namely that it is appropriate to revisit the earlier decision
  • whether in fact the decision being challenged is not a reversal of the original decision. See above: charging CCB to reflect repeated or continued behaviour is not a reversal of a decision not to charge a single allegation
  • what the suspect was told when no further action was taken or the matter discontinued, in particular any statement to the effect that a decision may later be reviewed or discontinued proceedings re-commenced
  • most importantly, whether or not it is tenable to say that the second limb of abuse is substantiated, namely that a stay of proceedings is necessary to protect the integrity of the justice system. This is an exceptional remedy. The integrity of the justice system is upheld, and not imperilled, when the Code for Crown Prosecutors and the Reconsidering a Prosecution Decision principles are applied, concerning significant evidence later discovered or reversing a wrong decision

As a general rule, prosecutors should seek to put before the court all relevant evidence of CCB.

Taking a Suspect -Centric Approach

An effective strategy in the prosecution of these cases needs to involve scrutiny of the behaviour and actions of the suspect. This approach can:

  • help ensure the effective consideration of the overall allegation within the wider context of the relationship
  • inform and support investigators to consider all available evidence
  • lead to the swift and accurate assessment of risk which, in turn, can help to ensure a suitable multi-agency approach to increasing the safety of the victim

A suspect usually weighs up the relative benefits and costs of pursuing abusive actions. This may involve taking several steps to minimise the likelihood of detection and punishment. Given the nature of the relationship, and the access it affords the suspect to the victim, highly sophisticated tactics to control or coerce can be deployed which can be accompanied by physical violence.

Examples of tactics that suspects may use are listed below, these are not exhaustive:

  • Being highly manipulative such as: ‘love bombing’ where the suspect will intermittently do what appears to be loving acts, seeking to present these as interrupting or negating the course of conduct rather than forming part of it – prosecutors should consider whether these apparently “loving” acts form part of the course of conduct.
  • Other manipulative steps, in order to disrupt or mislead the investigation and prosecution, including altering behaviour when being watched or supervised; using others to harass or stalk the victim including making spurious complaints to the authorities.
  • Take other steps to mislead the investigation, this can include altering behaviour when being watched or supervised; using others to assert control over the victim; accusing the victim of "nagging" them and other spurious complaints to the authorities.
  • Target vulnerable people recognising that they may face additional barriers to accessing help or support. For example: exploiting someone’s vulnerability owing to their immigration status, disability, age, or sexual orientation; or combining CCB with enforced sexual activity to humiliate the victim and reduce the risk of them seeking help. Consider the context of the relationship and the relative position of power to help with the assessment of the case. Refer to the Statutory Guidance,  CPS Domestic Abuse prosecution guidance Toolkit for Prosecutors on VAWG Cases involving Vulnerable Victims.
  • Make repeated litigation or applications for variations of a restraining order or child arrangement order to continue to try and control or coerce the victim. Where this occurs in a criminal case, for example, by making repeated unreasonable applications to vary a restraining order, prosecutors should remind the court of its powers to minimise abuse of process. It should be noted that only a single act is required to constitute a breach of a restraining order. Where there is a breach of a criminal or civil order, the sole defence is that the defendant had a reasonable excuse, which the defendant must first raise (it will then be for the prosecution to disprove it beyond reasonable doubt: Evans [2004] EWCA Crim 3102. Prosecutors should consider whether a breach of a restraining or other order, however, constitutes part of a course of conduct rather than an isolated incident (including, see below, whether this amounts to stalking or harassment).
  • Minimise, or give mitigation for, their offending behaviour. In general, if offending behaviour amounts to CCB, and that is the appropriate charge, prosecutors should not accept a plea to a lesser offence simply out of expediency. Refer to the section below titled ‘acceptability of pleas’ and the CPS Domestic Abuse prosecution guidance for further information.
  • Some disabled people or older people may be receiving informal or formal care or help from a partner, ex-partner or from their wider family. Their disability, age or other circumstances may leave them vulnerable, isolated, unable to communication or unable to access the means to communicate with other people. This means that these victims may be less able to recognise that some behaviours, such as financial control or coercion, is being carried out against them. If a disabled person is reliant upon the suspect for support, they may be manipulated into believing that nobody else is trustworthy enough or able to care for them, and if abuse was reported then they would go to a Residential Care Home.The suspect may also try to explain their actions by saying they are doing what they think is best for the victim.

For further information about offender tactics in VAWG cases, prosecutors should refer to Table 1 of the following toolkit highlighting the tactics and behaviours that an offender might use or display.

Selecting the Most Appropriate Charge or Charges

Prosecutors should note that the below paragraphs are duplicated in the Stalking or Harassment prosecution guidance and should be applied when considering CCB, stalking or harassment charges. For further information on stalking or harassment please refer to the  Stalking or Harassment prosecution guidance.

It is for the prosecutor to consider all the circumstances and facts of the case to arrive at a decision on the appropriate charge, applying the principles set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors ,in particular paragraph 6 ‘selection of charges’.

There is overlap in some elements of the offences of CCB, stalking and harassment. Monitoring a person’s movement or social media may constitute both stalking and CCB; controlling who they meet and when they leave the house may constitute both harassment and CCB. The removal of the requirement to cohabit, so that CCB may be charged for non-cohabiting intimate or family relationships, furthers this overlap.  It is important to select the charge based on an understanding of the cumulative harm caused to the victim and the harm in its totality. The evidence from the victim should set this out fully and inform the decision on charge, together with the context of the offending including the motivation of the suspect. This will also enable: 

  • victims to obtain appropriate specialist support (for example, via Independent Domestic Abuse Advisors and Independent Stalking Advocacy Caseworkers) and to access relevant risk assessments
  • suspects to access early intervention, bespoke referral routes and where appropriate mental health pathways
  • the courts to have appropriate sentencing provision and protective orders available to them

To present a case in a clear and simple way it may not be appropriate to charge stalking, harassment and CCB alongside one another. In order to ensure adequate powers of sentence where there is a higher maximum sentence for stalking or harassment, (i.e. section 4 and 4A PHA 1997) it is likely to tend in favour of charging those offences  rather than CCB. Presenting a case which amounts to stalking, and the availability of a stalking protection order, may make stalking the more appropriate charge when choosing between stalking or harassment.

Prosecutors should therefore consider potential charges in the following order:

  • If there is sufficient evdeicne for the elements of stalking involving fear of violence or serious distress or substantial adverse effect on the victim’s usual day-to-day activities , the offence contrary to section 4A Protection from Harassment Act 1997 may be the best offence to charge in order to reflect the seriousness and extent of the offending, give the court adequate powers to sentence and enable the case to be presented in a clear and simple way. The non-exhaustive list in section 2A(3) Protection from Harassment Act 1997 provides examples which can constitute stalking. These may overlap with CCB or harassment. However, behaviours which show a fixation, are obsessive, unwanted and repeated might most clearly be presented to a court as stalking rather than harassment or CCB. This is relevant to the way the case is presented, note also in respect of sentencing powers that the maximum penalty is 10 years’ imprisonment and a Stalking Protection Order is available as a civil order to protect victims.
  • If there is insufficient evidence to charge stalking, but there is sufficient evidence to charge section 4 Protection from Harassment Act 1997, the section 4 charge may be the most appropriate. Section 4 harassment is only available where fear of violence is caused, not serious distress which is available for section 4A stalking. Section 4 harassment may overlap with CCB, for example, threats to hurt or harm the victim or their family members and threats of sexual assault. Section 4 may be the more appropriate offence in respect of the sentencing powers available to the court, because the maximum penalty is 10 years’ imprisonment
  • If there is insufficient evidence to prosecute section 4A and 4 offences, but there is sufficient evidence to charge CCB, then CCB may be the most appropriate offence. This will likely be in cases where the conduct was controlling or coercive, causing serious alarm or distress which affects the usual day-to-day activities of the victim but did not amount to stalking and where no fear of violence was caused. For example, controlling when a person can leave the house, who they can and cannot socialise with, control of their finances and coercing them into debt. The maximum penalty is 5 years’ imprisonment. For that reason it is likely to be the most appropriate charge in relation to the powers available at sentence, even where section 2A stalking or 2 harassment are also available.

CCB can also assist in explaining the background to a specific serious incident or incidents.

Where there is evidence of CCB in the lead up to the commission of a homicide offence such as murder or unlawful act manslaughter prosecutors should refer to the Homicide Legal Guidance to consider whether a CCB charge should be laid in addition to the substantive offence.

When there is evidence of specific incidents, such as sexual offences, violent offences or non-fatal strangulation or suffocation, CCB should usually be charged along with other offences. 

Other offences attracting more than 5 years’ imprisonment should almost always be charged and not subsumed into CCB. Battery may better form part of the facts of CCB but may be charged if a particular incident of violence needs to be recorded on the offender’s record. The court may impose a consecutive or a concurrent sentence: what is important is that by charging both CCB and other offences the totality of the offending is put before the court. This is particularly important where the court should have available to it a maximum sentence in excess of 5 years’ imprisonment.

Prosecutors are reminded to consider the section below titled ‘Acceptability of Pleas’ when defendants offer pleas to some but not all offences charged.

Drafting the charge/indictment

The charge or indictment should plead each of the four elements of the offence set out in section 76. It may assist to specify in the charge how the victim and defendant are “personally connected” although this is likely to be apparent from the evidence. It will assist to explain which of the two serious effects the behaviour had on the victim or if both are pleaded. Namely, fear on at least two occasions, that violence would be used or serious alarm or distress which had a substantial adverse effect of the victim’s usual day to day activities. What is important is that the defendant knows how the case is to be put, and what case they have to meet, whether it is on either or both. The behaviour alleged is likely to be apparent from the evidence but it may also assist to set this out as clearly and specifically as possible, in the first instance in the charge, or the count on the indictment (or explanatory text accompanying these), or otherwise in a case summary or prosecution note.

An indictment may be drafted as follows, in order to make clear the serious effect relied upon and with some specificity the incidents relied upon:


CONTROLLING OR COERCIVE BEHAVIOUR IN AN INTIMATE OR FAMILY RELATIONSHIP, contrary to section 76 (1) and (11) of the Serious Crime Act 2015


[THE DEFENDANT] between [start date] and [end date], when personally connected to [XX], engaged in behaviour towards XX that was controlling or coercive, which had a serious effect on XX, namely that [it caused XX to fear, on at least two occasions, that violence would be used against XX] [it caused XX serious alarm or distress which had a substantial adverse effect on XX’s usual day-to-day activities] and which [THE DEFENDANT] knew or ought to have known would have a serious effect on XX.

[The controlling or coercive behaviour includes threats of violence, physical assaults on X and Y date, controlling what she could wear, controlling the colour of her hair, controlling which friends she could see and controlling her social media accounts]

Acceptability of Pleas

Prosecutors should refer to the Attorney General’s Guidelines on the Acceptance of Pleas and the Prosecutor’s Role in the Sentencing Exercise and paragraph 9 of the Code when determining acceptability of pleas.

In some cases, the defendant may offer a guilty plea to a different charge or plead guilty to some of the charges made against them, but not all.

When considering whether to accept a plea in these instances, prosecutors should ensure that the interests and, where possible, the views of the victim are taken into account when deciding whether it is in the public interest to accept the plea.

Prosecutors should consider the following factors when deciding whether to accept a plea to a lesser offence or a plea to one or some of the offences charged, taking into consideration the strategy and rationale for charging the offence or offences selected:

  • whether the defendant offers a plea that is in accordance with the evidence available to the prosecution
  • whether the defendant has any previous incidents recorded against them
  • whether it would be advantageous to the victim and any children or dependents not to have to give evidence
  • the victim's views on the pleas offered, some victims would prefer to give evidence rather than accept a plea to a lesser offence
  • whether the plea fetters the discretion of the court in relation to sentencing
  • whether the difference between the prosecution and defence version of events is such that it would significantly affect the sentence that would be imposed (if it does, there should be a Newton Hearing to determine the facts)
  • the fact that defendants will often seek to minimise the offence or mitigate their offence, and
  • whether the acceptance of plea could impact upon the ancillary orders available to the court at sentence

Where there has been an agreed basis between prosecutors and the defence to a plea, this should be put into writing and signed by both parties.

Prosecutors should scrutinise offers to plead to CCB on a “full facts” basis, where the defendant accepts the commission of other offences as part of the case relating to CCB but would be convicted and sentenced only of CCB. This offer, subject to the views of the victim, should usually be rejected where the other offending carries a sentence greater or equal to CCB. Such charges should usually be recorded on a defendant’s record and, whether the court passes a concurrent or consecutive sentence, reflected in the totality of the sentence passed.

Instructions to advocates

Instructions to advocates, (both internal and external), must clearly set out the strategy and rationale for the charges laid and how the case is to be prosecuted. If the case is to be prosecuted as an evidence-led prosecution, clear instructions must be provided regarding the evidence to be relied upon.

Advocates must be made aware of any specific victim needs, and any special measures required. For further information see the special measures legal guidance.

The instructions must include views regarding decisions in relation to the acceptability of pleas. This may include what pleas, in light of the guidance above, are or are not likely to be acceptable. Where agents or counsel are instructed, they must be made aware that decisions on acceptability of pleas, issues affecting victim and witness attendance at court (including compelling their attendance) must be referred to CPS prosecutors for authorisation before a final decision is made.

Action to take when there is a decision not to charge

Even where there is a decision to take no further action, prosecutors may ask police officers to advise the victim to keep records to support any future investigation. This might include:

  • a diary of events (ideally in a bound book or timed by keeping an electronic record) noting that there are potential risks to the victim if the suspect were to discover this
  • safely noting details of witnesses who may have observed or heard these events
  • saving messages, taking screenshots or taping calls made by the defendant
  • safely speaking to neighbours, colleagues, family, friends, or specialist support services

CCB is an ongoing pattern of offending rather than separate isolated incidents. It is necessary to consider the cumulative effect of offending even if at an earlier stage a determination had been made that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute.

Sentencing and Ancillary Orders

There is a specific Sentencing Guideline for this offence. Prosecutors should also ensure the court has regard to Overarching principles: Domestic Abuse.

CCB is within the unduly lenient sentence scheme. For further information see the Unduly Lenient Sentences legal guidance. Examples of such cases are: Dalgarno [2020] EWCA Crim 290 and Kingswell [2022] EWCA Crim 814.

Prosecutors should be aware of and consider the full range of ancillary orders available (and their limitations) prior to making any application. These should always be considered for this offence and victim’s views obtained. In particular, prosecutors should ensure they have asked the police to update information to enable accurate applications for restraining orders in appropriate cases.  For further information regarding ancillary orders prosecutors should refer to the CPS Domestic Abuse prosecution guidance  and Sentencing Ancillary Orders legal guidance.

Identifying and Flagging Cases

All cases of controlling or coercive behaviour should be flagged as domestic abuse. Prosecutors should also consider whether other VAWG flags on the CPS Case Management System (CMS) such as forced marriage, so-called "honour" based violence, disability hate crime, crimes against older people or rape are appropriate. Multiple flags can be applied to a CMS case and those listed here are not exhaustive. All relevant flags should be applied.

Further reading

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