One of the last laws to be enacted in 2015 is a complicated piece of legislation that makes it a criminal offence for a person to use a pattern of controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or former intimate relationship or family relationship.
The offence carries a potential five-year prison sentence and is aimed at protecting, mainly women, from repeated and continuous ‘low level’ abusive conduct, which is widely recognised as being potentially more harmful than a single violent incident.
The Home Office has placed a copy of the Statutory Guidance Framework relating to this law on the internet and, for anybody interested in the subject of domestic violence, it really is a worthwhile read. The rationale for creating the offence includes a quote from Evan Stark, who wrote a paper called How men trap women in personal life, in which he says: “Not only is coercive control the most common context in which (women) are abused, it is also the most dangerous”.
This type of legislation is needed, but, in its published form, it could create a field day for lawyers and false complaints.
As an example, Sana Khan, who has recently been convicted with her husband of plotting a terrorist attack in London, that was timed to coincide with the anniversary of the 7/7 bombings, attempted to use this law in her defence.
She argued she had been in a controlling and abusive relationship, thereby laying the entire blame for the plot with her husband. The judge rejected the claim on this occasion but I foresee that this type of claim will become a more frequent and potentially successful legal tactic in a wide range of cases.
The successful implementation of this new law will depend on a common sense application by the police and the CPS. The guidance highlights that victims may be unaware they are in a controlling and abusive relationship and therefore it is incumbent on the authorities to search for such evidence. However, the authorities must be careful not to inappropriately invent or create a case by using events that are so minor and inconsequential and are also many years apart.
Overall, this legislation, used appropriately, has the potential to significantly help people who are victims of domestic violence and abuse. In my opinion it may just need some fine-tuning and some additional case law to make it truly effective.