A new law targeting domestic abusers, brought into force in England and Wales, follows a Home Office consultation in which 85% of participants said the existing law did not provide sufficient protection.
Citizens Advice said it has supported more than 5,400 people suffering from domestic abuse in the 12 months to October 2015, including 3,000 cases of emotional abuse and 900 of financial abuse.
The new offence criminalises patterns of such behaviour against an intimate partner or family member where there is evidence of repeated or continuous "controlling or coercive behaviour" and where a reasonable person would have appreciated that the behaviour would have a serious impact on the victim. In order for the offence to apply, the pattern of behaviour alleged must have a "serious effect" on the victim. There need be no physical violence involved.
For the law to apply, victims must have either feared violence will be used against them on at least two occasions or they have been caused serious alarm or distress which has a "substantial adverse effect" on their usual day-to-day activities. This is the definition of "controlling or coercive behaviour" as defined under section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015.
Examples of activity which could be caught by the new law include stopping someone from socialising; limiting their access to family, friends and finances; controlling their social media accounts; surveillance through apps and dictating what they wear. Such activity could result in a five year prison sentence under the new law.
Controlling or coercive behaviour can limit victims' basic human rights, such as their freedom of movement and their independence. 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. These new powers mean this behaviour, which is particularly relevant to cases of domestic abuse, can now be prosecuted in its own right
In order to avoid inappropriate use of the new offence, the legislation includes a defence if the defendant can show that they believed they were acting in the victim's best interests, and if their behaviour was objectively reasonable. An example could be where an individual is caring for his mentally ill spouse and forces that person to take medication.
If you require legal advice or representation on current or pending prosecution please contact Elizabeth Bradshaw on either 01206 369889 or firstname.lastname@example.org
This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.