I was very pleased to hear the announcement by Theresa May on 18 December 2014 confirming that the coalition Government would introduce a criminal offence of coercive control. This is a campaign I have been involved with as a Director of Paladin the National Stalking Advocacy Service along with Women’s Aid and the Sara Charlton Charitable Foundation.
The coalition Government proposed an amendment to the Serious Crime Bill on the 8 January 2015 to introduce the legislation. The draft legislation refers to an offence of “controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship” and would require more than one incident for a prosecution. This is of course good news however I am quite concerned about the proposed defence to coercive or controlling behaviour if the perpetrator “believed that he or she was acting in the (victims) best interest and the behaviour was in the circumstances reasonable. ” This I believe is a dangerous development and could result in the legislation being almost unworkable as every perpetrator in the land will attempt to invoke this defence the like of which does not appear in other legislation for domestic violence offences e.g. false imprisonment. This proposed defence once again puts the focus on the conduct of the victim of domestic violence as perpetrators will claim that her conduct gave them no option but to act in a controlling manner. Perpetrators will attempt to use victims’ vulnerabilities against them stating that the victim had mental health problems/alcohol issues/was financially irresponsible and therefore the coercive and controlling behaviour was necessary. Perpetrators often claim (and victims often believe because of the coercive control) that the control is done with the best intentions and I have often heard victims claim “he only does it because he loves me” which is of course ridiculous. Whilst the defence needs to demonstrate that the control was “in all the circumstances reasonable” this requires confidence that the police, CPS and judiciary will look at this issue with an understanding of the dynamics of domestic abuse and unless we have training this simply won’t happen. So whilst I welcome the criminal offence I feel very cautious about this unusual defence and would urge the government to think again about it.