Solicitors specialising in defending allegations of controlling or coercive behaviour (London & Manchester)
The specialist team at Olliers frequently represents clients facing allegations of controlling or coercive behaviour. This is a sensitive area of law and the investigations are often linked to allegations of assault or domestic abuse. By the very definition of the offence there is usually a lot of background to the matter and invariably there are two sides to the story.
Our clients frequently include professionals with no prior involvement with the criminal justice system and it may be the first time they have been arrested. We have many years experience of representing doctors, medical professionals, other lawyers, teachers, FCA regulated professionals, and high net worth individuals. We understand the importance for our clients of avoiding a prosecution.
What is controlling or coercive behaviour?
The Government definition provides:
Coercive behaviour is an act/pattern of acts including assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other forms abuse used to harm, punish, and frighten the complainant.
Controlling behaviour is an array of acts considered to make an individual feel subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from support, abusing resources and capacities for personal gain, taking their independence, and regulating daily behaviour.
Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 – Controlling or Coercive Behaviour in an Intimate or Family Relationship
Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 introduced a new offence of controlling or coercive behaviour.
There are four elements to the offence:
- repeated or continuous behaviour towards another , that is ‘controlling or coercive’; and
- at the time of the behaviour, the individuals are ‘personally connected’; and
- the behaviour has a ‘serious effect’ on the other person, and
- the individual knows or ‘ought to know’ that the behaviour will have a ‘serious effect’ on the person.
Individuals 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 in which it can be proved that an individual’s behaviour has a ‘serious effect’ on a person:
If it causes that person to fear, on at least two occasions, that violence will be used against them, or
If it causes that person to fear serious alarm or distress which has a substantial adverse effect on their day-to-day activities.
Repeated or continuous behaviour
The behaviour concerned is required to be ‘repeatedly’ or ‘continuously’. An additional, separate, element of the offence is it must have a ‘serious effect’ on someone. This can be proved if it causes someone to fear, a minimum of twice, that violence will be used. Activity need not be of the same nature. The prosecution should show intent to control or coerce a person.
Substantial adverse effect
A substantial adverse effect on a person’s usual day-to-day activities’ may include, but is not limited to:
- preventing or affecting the way someone socialises
- decline in physical/mental health
- altering routine at home including mealtimes or domestic responsibilities
- attendance record at school or college
- introducing measures at home to safeguard themselves/children
- changes to work patterns, employment or routes to get to work
‘Ought to know’
For the purposes of the offence an individual ‘ought to know’ that which a reasonable person in possession of the same information would know.
Which court will controlling and coercive behaviour be heard in?
The offence is ‘either way’ which means it can be dealt with in the Magistrates Court or the Crown Court, depending on seriousness and in some circumstances the choice made by a defendant. For an either way offence, the last incident is not required have happened in the previous six months. Offending in a domestic abuse environment is an aggravating factor due to the abuse of trust involved.
In the Magistrates’ Court, a person convicted of controlling and coercive behaviour faces imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or a fine, or both.
In the Crown Court, a person convicted of controlling and coercive behaviour faces imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, or a fine, or both;
Appropriate ancillary orders can be applied for upon sentence or acquittal, this could include restraining orders. Prosecutors should liaise with the police to obtain the complainant’s views prior to an application being made.
A pattern of controlling or coercive behaviour could be long established before it is reported. Conduct may seem innocent, in isolation and the complainant may not be conscious of abusive behaviour. Attention must be paid to the overall impact of controlling or coercive behaviour and the pattern of behaviour in the context of the relationship is important. Prosecutors can then assess if a pattern of behaviour amounts to fear of violence, or serious alarm or distress causing a substantial adverse effect on usual everyday life.
Relevant behaviour can include:
- Isolating a person from friends and family
- Depriving basic needs
- Monitoring their time
- Monitoring a person via online communication tools/spyware
- Taking control over daily life, where they can go, who they can see, clothing they can wear and when they can sleep
- Depriving them access to support services, including specialist support or medical services
- Constantly putting them down including making them feel worthless
- Imposing rules which humiliate, or dehumanise the victim
- Forcing the complainant to take part in criminal activity and preventing disclosure to authorities
- Control of finances, only allowing 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 medical condition without consent
- Limiting access to family, friends and finances
This above is not exhaustive.
What defences might be available?
It is a defence to show that in engaging in the behaviour in question, an individual believed that they were acting in the other person’s best interest; and the behaviour in all the circumstances was reasonable.
This defence is not available in relation to behaviour that causes a person to fear on at least two occasions that violence will be used against them.
How can Olliers help me?
During the investigation stage of the case, we will liaise with police in a sensitive manner. Where an allegation is denied we will ensure that our client’s case is presented meticulously. If the matter proceeds to court we will ensure that no stone is left unturned in the defence of our client. Cases of a domestic nature can often involve limited supporting evidence and result in the account of the complainant versus the account of the defendant. Click here to read more about how we deal with such cases at the pre-charge investigative stage.