Image credit: “Ryan Giggs (Manchester United Museum)” by edwin.11 is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
Former footballer Ryan Giggs is on trial for a number of offences including “using controlling and coercive behaviour”. We of course would never comment on an ongoing trial, but in this article, we explore further the elements of this offence.
So, what is the offence?
Controlling or coercive behaviour does not relate to a single incident, it is a purposeful pattern of behaviour which takes place over time in order for one individual to exert power, control or coercion over another.
This relatively new offence focuses responsibility and accountability on the perpetrator who has chosen to carry out these behaviours.
The cross-Government definition of domestic violence and abuse outlines controlling or coercive behaviour 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 types of behaviour associated with coercion or control may or may not constitute a criminal offence in their own right. It is important to remember that the presence of controlling or coercive behaviour does not mean that no other offence has been committed or cannot be charged.
However, the perpetrator may limit space for action and exhibit a story of ownership and entitlement over the victim. Such behaviours might include:
• isolating a person from their friends and family;
• depriving them of their basic needs;
• monitoring their time;
• monitoring a person via online communication tools or using spyware;
• taking control over aspects of their everyday life, such as where they can go, who they can see, what to wear and when they can sleep;
• depriving them of access to support services, such as specialist support or medical services;
• repeatedly putting them down such as telling them they are worthless;
• enforcing rules and activity which humiliate, degrade or dehumanise the victim;
• forcing the victim to take part in criminal activity such as shoplifting, neglect or abuse of children to encourage self-blame and prevent disclosure to authorities;
• financial abuse including control of finances, such as only allowing a person a punitive allowance;
• threats to hurt or kill;
• threats to a child;
• threats to reveal or publish private information (e.g. threatening to ‘out’ someone).
• criminal damage (such as destruction of household goods);
• preventing a person from having access to transport or from working.
This is not an exhaustive list.
To secure a conviction:
The controlling or coercive behaviour must take place “repeatedly or continuously”. Continuously means on an ongoing basis. This could mean, but is not limited to, actions which cause the victim to change their way of living. Behaviour displayed on only one occasion would not amount to repeated or continuous behaviour and courts may look for evidence of a pattern of behaviour established over a period of time rather than, for example, one or two isolated incidents which do not appear to establish a pattern. However, each case must be considered on an individual basis, there is no set number of incidents in which controlling or coercive behaviour has been displayed which must be proved. As much evidence as possible must be gathered to show that the behaviour is of a repetitive or continuous nature. The Act does not specify a timeframe between the incidents of the behaviour when it takes place repeatedly, therefore, the occurrences do not necessarily have to take place in immediate succession. However, two such controlling incidents taking place 10 years apart (for example) are unlikely to be sufficient, because it is unlikely that this will be considered to be behaviour that is occurring “repeatedly or continuously”
The pattern of behaviour has to have a “serious effect” on the victim- this means that they have been caused to EITHER fear that violence will be used against them on “at least two occasions”, OR they have been caused serious alarm or distress which has a substantial adverse effect on the victim’s usual day-to-day activities, this will usually require there to have been more than one incident. The offence does not state that the victim must fear violence that may be committed by the perpetrator only. For example, the victim may fear that the perpetrator has asked another person to commit violence against them.
The behaviour must be such that the perpetrator knows or “ought to know” that it will have a serious effect on the victim. “Ought to know” means that which a reasonable person in possession of the same information would know.
The perpetrator and victim have to be personally connected when the incidents took place- meaning that at the time the incidents took place they were in an intimate personal relationship (whether they lived together or not) or they lived together and were family members, or they lived together and had previously been in an intimate personal relationship. It is not necessary for the perpetrator and victim to still be cohabiting or in a relationship when the offence is reported as long as the incidents took place when they were “personally connected”, and after the offence came into force. If they were not personally connected, or the incidents took place after a relationship/cohabitation, the stalking and harassment legislation may apply.
How can we help?
We ensure we keep up to date with any changes in legislation and case law so that we are always best placed to advise you properly. If you would like to discuss any aspect of your case, please contact any member of our vastly experienced Criminal Defence team, for assistance with any criminal law related matter.
- Blog 367