In December 2015, a significant change in law was introduced making it a criminal offence to engage in controlling/coercive behaviour in an intimate/family relationship.
It has been recognised that abusive relationships do not consist only of direct threats and physical violence but can also include a control of all aspects of a person’s life and freedom. This can include for example, taking complete control of a person’s finances and steering them away from family and friends who might otherwise provide support.
I have doubts as to how effective this might be in practice given that the Police would have to amass a quantity of evidence as to an ongoing course of action.
This is a more difficult task than simply setting out details of specific acts of violence. Controlling behaviour is less easy to identify, and there is always the danger of elements of a relationship being reinterpreted with hindsight especially following a breakdown.
Evidently, however, it can be done as the Crown Prosecution Service has announced a recent conviction at Liverpool Magistrates Court of a 21 year old man, who has been sentenced for six months imprisonment for this offence. A Restraining Order has also been imposed for a two year period.
Restraining Orders have a similar effect to a Non-Molestation Order made in the Civil Courts and breach of both orders would be a criminal offence.
The Restraining Order might for example prohibit the Defendant from using or threatening violence. This includes any threatening or abusive communication through email, phone calls, text or via a social media platform. Sometimes, a Defendant will be restrained from having any communication, except for communication via solicitors to deal with issues regarding contact with children.
If there are in fact further issues regarding children or finances then a Complainant would be able to identify a Defendant’s conviction or Restraining Order as a stepping stone to apply for Legal Aid. This is due to public funding only being available for a person who is proven to be a victim of domestic abuse (and the existence of a conviction or a Restraining Order is one way of proving this).
The difficulty is that the Defendant/ perpetrator is not able to apply for public funding even if the other party has the benefit of Legal Aid which creates an uneven playing field.