On 29 December 2015, under section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015, a new criminal offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in intimate or familial relationships came into force. The offence of emotional abuse is constituted by behaviour of the perpetrator, with coercive or controlling behaviour having taken place repeatedly or continuously and having had a serious effect upon the victim. The behaviour causes the victim to have feared that violence will be used against them on at least two occasions.
Controlling behaviour is classed as “a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent,” for example by isolating them from sources of support and regulating their every day behaviour. Coercive behaviour is classed as a continuing act or a pattern of “acts of assault, threats and humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish or frighten,” a victim.
Those found guilty of the new offence of emotional abuse can face a fine or imprisonment of up to five years.
As well as victims of domestic abuse having the option to report such behaviour to the police, which is quite often the recommended step particularly in urgent situations, such victims may feel it necessary to seek protection through the family court by way of a Non-Molestation Order (commonly known as an injunction) to prevent the perpetrator from using or threatening violence against them, amongst other prohibitive sanctions.
Breach of a Non-Molestation Order is, by virtue of Section 1 of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004, also a criminal offence carrying sentences of a fine, imprisonment or both if found guilty upon conviction.
Legal Aid for emotional abuse victims
Legal Aid is available to those individuals wishing to seek a Non-Molestation Order through the family court, providing they are financially eligible.
For more information on domestic and emotional abuse and the remedies available in the family court, please contact the Family team.