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Clarke Willmott holds webinar on controlling and coercive behaviour

Clarke Willmott has held a webinar delving into the offence of coercive and controlling behaviour and looking at what legal professionals can do to help clients who fall victim

Led by partner and expert family lawyer, Rayner Grice, the webinar covered how the family court deals with cases involving domestic abuse, the impact of Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act and what lawyers should do if they think domestic abuse is happening in the context of a divorce and family relationship breakdown.

In 2015 the Serious Crime Act created a new offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate relationship. This was a breakthrough for sufferers of domestic abuse as it recognised, for the first time, that controlling behaviour can be just as damaging as physical violence.

Controlling and coercive behaviour is subtle and occurs over a prolonged period of time. In the majority of cases the behaviour has slowly escalated to the extent that the sufferer is generally unaware of what is happening as it has become a normal part of the relationship. Sufferers are also often unaware that this behaviour amounts to a criminal offence punishable by a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment.

Typical behaviours include isolation from friends and family, control of finances, threats of revealing personal information, depriving basic needs, monitoring time and movements, controlling what a person wears or eats, depriving access to support services such as medical appointments, forcing a victim to take part in criminal activity, threats to hurt or kill them or their children and assault.

Rayner Grice said: “It is important for family lawyers to be alert to these issues and ensure that there is awareness of the protection that can be offered by the police and within the family courts to sufferers.”

This type of behaviour does not relate to a single incident but is a pattern of behaviour that takes place over time. Victims of this behaviour often may not recognise themselves as such and if they do they may not be in a position to break free and seek help.

 

Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 sends a clear message that this type of abuse is taken seriously and is punishable by law. For the offence to apply under this section the following must have taken place:

  1. That the behaviour takes place repeatedly or continuously. This means that it must be on an ongoing basis.
  2. The victim and the alleged perpetrator must be personally connected at the time the behaviour takes place. This means that they were in an intimate personal relationship (whether they lived together or not) or they lived together and they were family members or they lived together and they had previously been in an intimate personal relationship.
  3. The behaviour must have a serious effect on the victim which means that they have been caused to either fear violence will be used against them on “at least two occasions”, or they have been caused serious alarm or distress which has had a substantial adverse effect on their day-to-day activities.
  4. The behaviour must be such that the perpetrator knows or ought to know that it will have a serious effect on the victim.

Evidence is difficult to provide in cases of coercive and controlling behaviour, due to the subtle nature of the behaviour,  but evidence which may help a case includes emails and phone records, text messages not just between the victim and the perpetrator but also between friends and family where the behaviour may be discussed, evidence of abuse on social media platforms and photos of any injuries which may have been obtained.

Rayner continued: “The Family Court are now much more aware of the impact this behaviour can have not only on sufferers but, potentially, their children in the context of a relationship breakdown and there is now much more consideration as to how the evidence can be given to the court which can articulate the subtlety and nuances of this type of behaviour and more importantly, describe the impact the behaviour has had upon victims.

Whatever the situation early legal advice is crucial, if you have experienced any form of domestic abuse but particularly where arrangements for children are concerned.”

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