Eight-year anniversary of criminalising coercive and controlling behaviour

The end of 2023, 29th December to be exact saw the eight-year anniversary of the criminalisation of coercive control.

The landmark legislation which established coercive and controlling behaviour (CCB) as a criminal offence in the Serious Crime Act 2015 of England and Wales.

Section 76 Serious Crime Act 2015 created the offence of CCB in an intimate or family relationship, with the crime able to be tried summarily or on indictment and currently carries a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment.

Guidance published at the time emphasised the importance of identifying this crime at the earliest opportunity and taking action, even when other crimes are being investigated.

There is guidance to help support how to approach the selection of charges when dealing with conduct which overlaps CCB, harassment and stalking.

  • putting before the court all relevant evidence, including revisiting previous allegations not proceeded with, if necessary
  • the importance of charging individual incidents in addition to CCB, especially where they attract a maximum penalty of, or more than, 5 years’ imprisonment, and
  • the relevance of a case strategy which considers acceptable pleas and how the case is to be put (and reflected in the charge or indictment) from the outset

Farah Nazeer, Chief Executive at Women’s Aid, commented on the anniversary of the legislation:

“Criminalising coercive and controlling behaviour, which Women’s Aid campaigned for alongside other organisations, was a landmark step forward in improving understanding of domestic abuse. Coercive control is at the heart of domestic abuse , leaving the person dependent on their abuser, lacking in confidence and isolated from their support network. Despite the prevalence of coercive control and how damaging it is, eight years on from the legislation that made it a criminal offence, only a small minority of survivors who experience it see justice being done.

We must do more to hold perpetrators accountable. It is positive to see that police recorded coercive control offences are rising year on year – reaching over 43,000 in the year ending March 2023. Yet only a fraction of these offences are resulting in convictions.  Everyone in the justice system needs to go far further to provide survivors with a consistent response to their experiences of abuse, ensuring that the crime is properly investigated, evidenced and strong cases are built to present to the court. These professionals must undergo specialist domestic abuse training to truly understand the corrosive nature of coercive control.

The government is also proposing, through the new Criminal & Justice Bill, to require those convicted of coercive control and serving a prison sentence of over a year, to be automatically subject to multi-agency protection measures – in the same way that violent, sexual and terrorist offenders currently are. This is an important step forward but questions remain around how many survivors it will protect, given the very low numbers of offenders serving prison sentences for coercive control. We need to see far better multi-agency working, that includes the expertise of specialist domestic abuse services, in every case of coercive control.

We know from our work with survivors of abuse, that a key reason for not reporting domestic abuse incidents is the fear of not being believed. We must believe survivors, placing their needs at the heart of everything we do.”

The Criminal and Justice Bill was introduced in late Autumn of 2023 with the first reading taking place on 14th November 2023 and the second reading on 28th November 2023

The Bill contains various measures which the Government has said:

“will protect the public, give the police the powers they need to cut crime and anti-social behaviour, improve public confidence in the police, introduce tougher sentencing for sexual and violent criminals and strengthen the supervision of offenders on release from prison.”

One of the new measures currently being proposed which relates directly to CCB, is provisions to make certain offenders convicted of coercive or controlling behaviour automatically subject to multi-agency public protection arrangements.

From 14th December 2023 this Bill has been at Committee Stage, and there have been committee debates. We await the next sitting on 11th January 2024.

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