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DPP: Controlling and coercive behaviour can "limit victims' basic human rights" as new domestic abuse law introduced


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).

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, or behaviour such as stopping a partner socialising, controlling their social media accounts, surveillance through apps and dictating what they wear. 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, with many victims stating 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."

Coercive behaviour is an act, or a pattern of acts, which are used to harm or frighten a victim. This can include humiliation, threats and intimidation. Controlling behaviour is a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate or dependent on them. Cases can be heard in either magistrates' courts or crown courts and the maximum sentence is five years imprisonment.

When reviewing these cases, prosecutors will be trained to look at the overall effect this controlling and/or coercive behaviour had on the victim.

The consideration of the cumulative impact of controlling or coercive behaviour and the pattern of behaviour within the context of the relationship is crucial.

This behaviour can include:

  • Stopping or changing the way someone socialises
  • Limiting access to family, friends and finances
  • Monitoring a person via online communication tools e.g. tracking apps on mobile phones
  • Repeatedly putting them down such as telling them they are worthless
  • Humiliating and embarrassing the victim

As well as the CPS legal guidance, prosecutors will receive specialist training on the new legislation. This will form part of the CPS' extensive work on wider domestic abuse, including a charging advice checklist for police and prosecutors and an evidence-gathering checklist for officers on the ground - both jointly published by the police and the CPS.

Louisa Rolfe, National Police Lead on Domestic Abuse, said:

"Every police force is working hard to increase the confidence of victims to report domestic abuse and we have seen a substantial increase in reporting nationally with greater understanding of all forms of abuse, not just physical violence. The new domestic abuse offence of Controlling and Coercive Behaviour within the Serious Crime Act is another tool to help the police service and CPS prosecute perpetrators of domestic abuse and protect victims. It will provide more opportunities to evidence other forms of domestic abuse, beyond physical violence. Not only will this encourage more victims to report we hope, but also the concerned family and friends of victims."

The College of Policing's head of crime and criminal justice, David Tucker, said:

"The new offence of coercive control presents challenges - it demands much fuller understanding of events that led up to a call for assistance and this can make evidence gathering more complex. However, more importantly, it delivers greater opportunities to safeguard victims and achieve successful prosecutions.

"We have produced specialised training to educate officers and staff involved in any aspect of domestic abuse investigation about the dynamics of coercive control.

"This is a real opportunity for the police service and CPS to work together to make victims and potential victims of serious assaults safer."

Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Women's Aid, said:

"Coercive control is at the heart of domestic abuse. Perpetrators will usually start abusing their victim by limiting her personal freedoms, monitoring her every move, and stripping away her control of her life; physical violence often comes later. Women's Aid and other organisations campaigned to have this recognised in law, and we are thrilled that this has now happened. It is a landmark moment in the UK's approach to domestic abuse, and must be accompanied by comprehensive professional training and awareness raising among the public."


Notes to Editors

  1. The Government definition of these types of behaviour are:
    • 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
  2. Evidence in these cases can include:
    • Copies of emails
    • GPS tracking devices installed on mobile phones (etc.)
    • Bank records
    • Witness statements from family and friends
    • Evidence of isolation
  3. A person guilty under section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 - Controlling or Coercive Behaviour in an Intimate or Family Relationship - 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 our more information at the CPS legal guidance on controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship
  5. For media enquiries call the CPS Press Office on 020 3357 0906; Out of Hours Pager 07699 781 926
  6. For the latest in breaking news from the CPS Press Office follow @cpsuk and visit our official News Brief -
  7. The CPS consists of 13 Areas in total, each headed by a Chief Crown Prosecutor (CCP). In addition, there are three national casework divisions: Specialist Fraud (formerly Central Fraud and Welfare, Rural & Health Divisions), Special Crime & Counter Terrorism and Organised Crime. CPS Direct is a 'virtual' 14th Area which provides charging decisions to all police forces and other investigators across England and Wales - it operates twenty-four hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
  8. At 31 March 2015 we employed a workforce of approximately 5,895 staff (full time equivalent), including around 2,255 prosecutors and 3,288 caseworkers and administrators. Further information can be found on our website:
  9. The CPS, together with police representatives (formerly ACPO) and media representatives, has developed a Protocol for the release of prosecution material to the media. This sets out the type of prosecution material that will normally be released, or considered for release, together with the factors we will take into account when considering requests. Read the Protocol for the release of prosecution material to the media.