Coercive and Controlling Behaviour
Effective as of 29 December 2015, section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 created a new offence of ‘controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship‘.
Under this law, an offence is committed by A if:
- A repeatedly or continuously engages in behaviour towards another person, B, that is controlling or coercive; and
- At time of the behaviour, A and B are personally connected; and
- 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.
A and B 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 to prove that A’s behaviour has a ‘serious effect’ on B:
- If it causes B to fear, on at least two occasions, that violence will be used against them – s.76 (4)(a); or
- If it causes B serious alarm or distress, which has a substantial adverse effect on their day-to-day activities – s.76 (4) (b).
The case of R v M (2021) has recently highlighted the need to recognise this type of behaviour in Family Court. In this case, the father was found to have coercively controlled his children’s mother, systematically isolating her from her work/social life, family, friends and colleagues.
In his judgment, Mr Justice Hayden emphasised the following examples of coercive and controlling behaviour. These are also contained within statutory guidance published by the Home Office pursuant to Section 77(1) of the Serious Crime Act 2015:
- 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
- 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
This list is by no means exhaustive, but is useful in recognising the signs of this type of damaging behaviour.
If found guilty of coercive and controlling behaviour in the criminal courts, a person 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 6 months, or a fine, or both.
If you believe you are the victim of coercive or controlling behaviour, it is important that you seek support and do not suffer alone. The following links provide further guidance and support for survivors: