Recent developments on coercive control

Domestic abuse is no longer limited to its stereotypical definition of physical violence. Indeed, both in criminal law and family law, what is considered as a form of domestic abuse has been significantly widened and whilst the Court is alive to this, the way it is managed within legal proceedings still has a long way to go.

There is no legal definition of domestic abuse, but it is recognised as “any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse” which also includes financial control.

More recently covert recordings have been considered as a form of coercion and will not be viewed lightly by the Court. This is reflected in a recent judgement where Justice Poole held that secret recordings a man took of his wife was an ‘act of control’. Furthermore, it is important to appreciate that this type of behaviour does not just simply impact the victim alone but also any children and extended family. An example of this is reflected in M v F (2016) whereas part of family law proceedings, the father used various devices to record private conversations of his child with professionals by sewing them into the child’s clothes or by using a mobile phone.

We can only assume that he had hoped this would help his case but in fact the Court held that this act will only further damage the relationship with his child and the use of covert recordings was one of the indicators that the father was unable to meet the emotional needs of the child.

This does not necessarily mean that all covert recordings would result in a form of coercion and sometimes there may be a good argument in favour of covert recordings, but Jackson J concluded by stating that when it comes to covert recordings you should think carefully about the consequences.

Although it can be said that coercive control has long been recognised to form part of domestic abuse it is argued that this type of domestic abuse is largely under reported in case law within Family Court proceedings. The judgement of F v M (2021) is notably the first case to reach the High Court that deals with this type of domestic abuse. Hayden J took the opportunity to emphasise that coercion is unlikely to be an isolated incident and will usually involve a pattern of acts which can illuminate how sinister this form of abuse can be. Therefore, as practitioners it is important for us to look at the bigger picture.

Hayden J was asked to consider how appropriate the use of a Scott Schedule is for coercive control and whilst he was reluctant to be too critical, he made it clear that the Scott Schedule alone may be inappropriate and the Court must consider the full history of the relationship in order to fully appreciate the pattern of behaviour and harm caused.

However, we continue to make strides in this area following the ‘Assessing Risk of Harm to Children and Parents in Private Law Children Cases’ report which was published in June 2020 and as more cases of this nature are being heard, it will begin to be standard practice to not only recognise this as a factor in the relationship, but have it robustly dealt with within proceedings.

The Family Team at Sintons LLP are well equipped with dealing with matters of this sort and are always keeping up to date as the law changes. If you feel you could benefit from our services, please contact 0191 226 7878 or visit the Sintons website.

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