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Criminal Defence Blog

New Law: Controlling Or Coercive Behaviour

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Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 created a new offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship. This new offence was created to tackle the reported difficulty of proving a pattern of behaviour amounting to harassment within an intimate relationship.


This new offence came into force on 29 December 2015 and is not retrospective, meaning that anything that occurred before that date cannot be charged as the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship.


The law states that you commit this offence if you repeatedly or continuously engage in behaviour towards another person that is controlling or coercive, and you and that person are personally connected, and the behaviour has a serious effect on that person, and you know or ought to know that the behaviour would have a serious effect on that person.


You and the other person are deemed to be ‘personally connected’ if you are in an intimate relationship, or you live together and are either members of the same family or you live together and have previously been in an intimate relationship with each other.


It can be proved that your behaviour had a ‘serious effect’ on the other person in two ways. Either:


  • It causes the other person to fear, on at least two occasions, that violence will be used against them; OR
  • It causes the other person serious alarm or distress which has a substantial adverse effect on their day to day life, including things such as:
    • Stopping or changing the way someone socialises
    • Physical or mental health deterioration
    • A change in routine at home including those associated with mealtimes or household chores
    • Attendance record at school
    • Putting in place measures at home to safeguard themselves or their children
    • Changes to work patterns, employment status or routes to work


If you are charged with this offence, your case will be heard in the magistrates or Crown Court and, if convicted, the sentence will depend on which court hears the case.


If you are convicted in the Crown Court, you are at risk of a sentence of up to five years in prison, and if you are convicted in the magistrates’ court, you are at risk of a sentence of up to 6 months in prison.


Examples of controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship 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
  • 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
  • Assault
  • 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 without consent
  • Limiting access to family, friends and finances


Defences against this charge are available, and these range from you asserting that the allegations are entirely fabricated, to your genuine belief that by behaving in the ways alleged you were acting in the other person’s interests and/or that your behaviour was reasonable in the circumstances.


If you are being investigated in relation to an allegation of controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship, it is vital that you seek specialist legal help as soon as possible.


Our dedicated team are here to help – call us now on 01623 397200.



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