After much lobbying and debate, the Serious Crime Act 2015 (SCA 2015) received royal assent on 3 March and s.76 of this act came into force on the 29 December 2015.
This section criminalises controlling or coercive behaviour within an intimate or family relationship. Any individual found guilty of this offence may receive up to a maximum of five years imprisonment, a fine or both.
The Home Office has provided a statutory guidance framework in respect of the offence, which provides a non-exhaustive list of the types of behaviour which will be associated with coercion or control. This includes:
- isolating a person from their friends and family
- monitoring a person via online communication tools or using spyware
- repeatedly putting them down e.g. telling them they are worthless
- financial abuse, including control of finances, such as only allowing a person a punitive allowance.
It is also noted that some of the behaviours listed in the guidance may constitute criminal offences in their own right.
Questions have been raised about how such behaviour is to be deemed serious enough to warrant legal intervention. For such controlling or coercive behaviour to constitute an offence under s.76 SCA 2015 the following must apply:
- the controlling or coercive behaviour must take place ‘repeatedly or continuously’
- the pattern of behaviour has to have a ‘serious effect’ on the victim
- the behaviour must be such that the perpetrator knows or ‘ought to know’ that it will have a serious effect on the victim
- the perpetrator and victim have to be personally connected when the incidents took place.
It is hoped that this new offence will make clear that such behaviour constitutes a serious offence and will provide better protection to victims suffering continuous or repeated abuse.