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Home office guidance on offence of coercive behaviour

Guidance from the Home Office has been published concerning the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship. The statutory guidance framework aims to clarify the law and close certain gaps that previously existed, but is applicable only to England and Wales. As well as being of relevance to police and criminal justice agencies, it will also be of use to voluntary and non-government organisations.
The Serious Crime Act (2015) establishes the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour, which carries a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment, as well as a fine. The pattern of behaviour must be repeated or continuous, typically causing the victim to fear violence or to have other serious effects on their day-to-day life, and the alleged perpetrator must be aware that their behaviour would have such an effect. Under the guidance, controlling or coercive behaviour are defined as follows:

Controlling behaviour is: 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.
Coercive behaviour is: a continuing act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.

The guidance closes a “loophole” which means that such behaviour was not previously considered as a form of domestic abuse, and recognises the harm caused by coercion or control, as a breach of trust in an intimate or family relationship. The Home Office’s document states that such behaviour, as a recurring pattern, can be more harmful than a single episode of physical violence, and is both the most common and the most dangerous context within which women suffer abuse.

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