The Serious Crime Act 2015 – are you a victim of Controlling or Coercive Behaviour

 At the tail end of last year The Serious Crime Act 2015 came into force.

 As was much publicised at the time the Act created a new offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in intimate or familial relationships.

 As the Home Office Statutory Guidance Framework entitled “Controlling or Coercive Behaviour in an Intimate of Family Relationship” dated December 2015 ( the “Statutory Guidance Framework”) makes clear the offence has a number of elements to it:

1.       The behaviour must take place repeatedly or continuously;

2.       The alleged victim and perpetrator must be personally connected at the time the behaviour takes place;

3.       The behaviour must have had a serious effect on the victim;

4.       The behaviour must have caused the victim to fear violence will be used against them or have had a substantial adverse effect on the victim’s day to day activities;

5.       The alleged perpetrator must have known their behaviour would have a serious effect on the victim or ought to have known it would have that effect.

 The Statutory Guidance Framework then, helpfully, gives examples of things that might constitute such behaviour, including: 

1.       Isolating a person from their friends and family;

2.       Depriving them of their basic needs;

3.       Monitoring their time;

4.       Monitoring a person via online communication tools or using spyware;

5.       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;

6.       Depriving them of access to support services, such as specialist support or medical services;

7.       Repeatedly putting them down such as telling them they are worthless;

8.       Enforcing rules and activity which humiliate, degrade or dehumanise the victim;

9.       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;

10.   Financial abuse including control of finances, such as only allowing a person a punitive allowance;

11.   Threats to hurt or kill;

12.   Threats to a child;

13.   Threats to reveal or publish private information (e.g. threatening to “out” someone)

14.   Assault;

15.   Criminal damage (such as destruction of household goods);

16.   Rape; and

17.   Preventing a person from having access to transport or from working.

The Guidance emphasises that this is not an exhaustive list and, of course, many of these things are covered by other offences.

The new offence carries a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment on conviction on indictment.

As with many other potential offences in this area the court has the ability to make a restraining order whether or not a conviction is ultimately successful.

As a result of this and other enactments in this area, for most people the criminal justice system should be their first port of call when looking for protection for the most important reason that they do not have to pay for it.

However it must be remembered that there are also ways in which a perpetrators behaviour can potentially be dealt with in the civil courts and there are sometimes good reasons why one might wish to use the civil rather than criminal courts, including importantly:

1.       You may not want to criminalise your other half but just stop their behaviour;

2.       You control the decisions made in the proceedings, including whether, when and in what circumstances you are going to drop them;

3.       Very often the same facts are also relevant in other family proceedings such as what the care arrangements of the children are going to be or the financial consequences of the breakup of the marriage.

Such proceedings include applications under the Family Law Act 1996 or the Protection from Harassment Act  1997.

If you are an associated person for the purposes of the Family Law Act – which includes most familial situations – then you can apply for either a non-molestation injunction or an occupation order.

A non-molestation injunction is an order that prevents the use or threat of violence and harassing, pestering or interfering with them and in appropriate circumstances can cover children as well.

An occupation order is an order to regulate the occupation of a property and includes the power to force the perpetrator to leave and, having left not to return to, enter or attempt to enter it. In appropriate circumstances the court can impose an exclusion zone around the property.

The powers under the Protection from Harassment Act are broadly similar but also potentially cover people who are not connected under the Family Law Act and/or include the ability to seek an order for damages.

Applications in each case normally require appropriate notice to the alleged perpetrator but in appropriate circumstances can be made without notice such that any order is in force at the time the application is served.

In all proceedings the application must be personally served on the alleged perpetrator and there will be a hearing at which they will be given their opportunity to have their say on the allegations. If they dispute the allegations then they will be given time within which to file any evidence and there would then be a final hearing to determine the matter when evidence hearing, submissions made before judgement is given.

A breach of an injunction order made can then either be enforced in the criminal or civil courts which could lead in either to the party who was alleged to have breached the order being arrested and – which would require a further hearing – their possible fining and/or imprisonment.

If you are afraid that your ex-partner may try and take the children away from you, you can make application for a prohibited steps order. If they have taken the children away without your consent or kept them following a contact visit you can make an application to the court for an order that they are returned to you.

If the children have been removed from the jurisdiction without your consent or an order of the court then – as long as the other country is a signatory to it – the Hague Convention can potentially be used to get the children back.

Although your own evidence is good evidence it is always helpful if there is other corroborating evidence. We would therefore urge people to undertake the following:

1.   Log issues with the police and, if there are children, with social services;

2.   Report any injuries to your Doctor;

3.   Keep a contemporaneous record of events, including the name and contact details of any witnesses;

4.   Keep records of written communications, including text and emails sent and received

If you are facing an immediate threat to your person we would urge you to contact the police in the first instance.

If, however, they are unable to help or you would rather not involve them then please do contact us and we shall endeavour to help you.

The Family Team at Coley and Tilley have a lot of experience dealing with cases involving allegations of domestic violence and the consequences of relationship breakdown. If you require additional advice on either, Chris Allen-Jones, Head of the Family Department at Coley & Tilley Solicitors, can be contacted through the switchboard on 0121 643 5531 or by email on caj@coleyandtilley.co.uk