New domestic abuse laws – will they help?

New domestic abuse laws mean that controlling or coercive behaviour in intimate or family relationships can now be a criminal offence.  The new law is the Serious Crime Act 2015.  The maximum sentence if found guilty could be  5 years imprisonment, a fine or both.

What counts as “Controlling behaviour”?

The Home Office guidelines provides the following definition;

“A range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour”

What counts as “Coercive behaviour”?

“A continuing act or pattern of acts of assault, threats , humiliation and intimidation or other abuse used to harm, punish or frighten their victim.”

Specific examples of these types of behaviour, under the new domestic abuse laws might include;

  • Keeping tabs on a partner’s location and activities
  • Controlling what a partner does, who they see and what they wear
  • Denying a partner access to money or only allowing very small sums – stopping access to financial support as a punishment for having done something is particularly highlighted
  • Making threats to reveal personal information such as a relationship or information about sexual orientation or preferences
  • Isolating a partner from their friends and family
  • Using spyware to monitor emails or internet activity and, seemingly even
  • “Monitoring a person via online communication tools.”

The actions must take place “Repeatedly or continuously.”  This is likely to mean that there will need to be a pattern of incidents and certainly more than just one or two.

In addition the actions must have had a “Serious effect” on the victim.  This will mean that the victim must have feared that violence will be used against them on “At least two occasions” or caused such alarm or distress that it has led to the victim changing or stopping usual day to day activities such as shopping, communicating with others, work and travel amongst others.

As long as a reasonable person would have seen that the relevant behaviour would have had a serious effect or lead to such beliefs as those set out above then the perpetrator will be assumed to have known or ought to have known the impact of her or his behaviour.

Who can claim protection under the new domestic abuse laws?

If you are suffering controlling or coercive behaviour from someone that you are personally connected with then you can report this to the police.  This applies if you are or were in an intimate relationship with the other person when the behaviour happened, whether you lived together or not.  It can also mean family members who, lived together including behaviour between parents and adult children.

Does this change the law in relation to non molestation and occupation orders?

You can still apply to the court for an injunction against a partner to stop harassing, pestering or molesting you or to have them removed from your home.  Those remedies are still available under the Family Law Act Part IV.

This new law is helpful in giving an alternative remedy and giving the police the powers that they have needed to be able to take action.  Historically, too many individuals in making complaints to the police against abusive partners were told to make their own application to the court for an injunction under the Family Law Act.  This new law may well place that responsibility to take action back at the feet of the police.

Whether or not they will be inclined to use them or have the resources to enable them to investigate and take action promptly remains to be seen.

What should I do next?

If you or somebody you know is worried about a partner’s behaviour then get in touch right away.  You can telephone Lincoln based specialist family lawyers Diane Genders Solicitors on 01522 516500 or alternatively email us in confidence using the links you can find by CLICKING HERE

One of our experienced divorce lawyers will be able to answer your questions and give you the answers that you need.