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Coming soon: the Domestic Abuse Bill
The offence was first introduced by Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015. We have previously blogged on this offence here.
The number of offences of controlling and coercive behaviour recorded by Police Forces in England and Wales has increased from 4,246 in 2016/2017 to 24,856 in 2019/2020. It is a criminal offence that Police Officers and Prosecutors are increasingly familiar with using.
The original form of the offence, as introduced by the Serious Crime Act 2015, required that the Complainant and the Defendant were “in an intimate personal relationship” at the time that the offence was alleged to have been committed. It is common that allegations of controlling and coercive behaviour arise in the context of acrimonious divorces and financial proceedings. However, by the point that divorce or financial proceedings are underway, often the parties are no longer “in an intimate personal relationship” and therefore the offence did not apply to those circumstances.
A review by the Ministry of Justice highlighted the requirement for the offence arising during the currency of “an intimate personal relationship” as being an area for potential reform.
The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 has removed this requirement. As a consequence, allegations of controlling and coercive behaviour where the acts alleged to have happened post-date the separation of the parties can now be investigated and prosecuted.
Although the Act has received Royal Assent, the Section of the Act that gives effect to this reform has not yet been implemented and there is currently no date for when it will come into force. Furthermore, the legislation does not have retroactive effect, therefore, the reform will only start to take effect once it is finally introduced and cannot be used to prosecute historical complaints which predate the implantation of the legislation.
This amendment amounts to a significant broadening of the offence; as the offence will now capture a wide range of post separation conduct which had previously been outside the scope of the legislation. It is likely that this reform will lead to a significant increase in the number of prosecutions of controlling and coercive behaviour, particularly in circumstances where there are on-going family law proceedings.
Allegations of this nature tend to be evidentially complex and specialist legal advice is recommended in order to navigate this new and developing area of law.
For further information on the issues raised in this blog post, please contact a member of our criminal litigation team.
Nick Dent is an Senior Associate in the Criminal Litigation team with experience in a broad range of general crime and white collar crime cases. He has significant experience at handling criminal cases from the interview under caution to the conclusion of a case. He frequently advises individuals who are under investigation or immediately following their arrest and is acutely aware of the emotional distress and pressure that this can entail. Nick has particular experience in acting on behalf of people who are in the public eye whose reputation and livelihood are at stake.
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