Domestic Abuse: An update on a new criminal offence

On 29 December 2015, the criminal offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in intimate or family relationships under section 76 Serious Crime Act 2015 (SCA 2015) came into force.  The elements of the offence are as follows:

  • The victim and the perpetrator were personally connected at the time of the offence;
  • The perpetrator’s behaviour:
    • Was controlling or coercive
    • Was part of a repeated or continuous pattern;
    • Had a serious effect on the victim or substantial adverse effect on the victim’s day-to-day activities;
    • Was known or ought to have been known by the perpetrator to have a serious effect on the victim.

If found guilty, the perpetrator could be sentenced to a maximum of five years’ imprisonment or a fine, or both. On summary conviction, the maximum sentence is 12 months’ or a fine, or both.

The perpetrator will have a valid defence if he/she can show that they behaved as they did in the belief that it was for the victim’s best interests and where their behaviour was objectively reasonable in the circumstances (section 76(8) SCA 2015).  However, that defence will not be available if the behaviour made the victim fear that violence would be used against them (section 76(10)).

Domestic abuse is a very serious issue and something that should be reported to the police without delay.  If you are the victim of domestic abuse, or know someone who is, and would like to discuss your options then please get in contact with our family team.

Please also refer to our guide on Divorce and Separation for further information.