Coercive control and the criminal law

Cassandra Wiener’s research on coercive control and the criminal law addresses the need for reform in this area in England and Wales. Her particular focus is s76 Serious Crime Act 2020, the law which makes controlling or coercive behaviour a criminal offence. Her chapter ‘From Social Construct to Legal Paradigm: the New Offence of Coercive or Controlling Behaviour in England and Wales’ published earlier this year in Marilyn McMahon and Paul McGorrery, (eds) Criminalising Non-Physical Family Violence: Coercive Control and Autonomy Crimes (Springer International 2020) reviews s76 Serious Crime Act and explains where reform is needed. 

 One of the problems identified by the chapter was the faulty definition of ‘connected persons’. Due to the so-called ‘residency requirement’ in the definition of ‘connected persons’ in the Act, coercive control was only a criminal offence while the victim was in a relationship with her abuser. Post separation, where the victim and abuser no longer live together, it did not apply. Cassandra’s research demonstrated some of the ways this proved to be a problem for police and survivors of abuse. Cassandra worked with Domestic Abuse charity Surviving Economic Abuse to get post separation abuse proper recognition in the Domestic Abuse Bill 2020. Cassandra, together with Surviving Economic Abuse, took part in a House of Lords Roundtable on 22 February presenting her research findings to peers, the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice. 

House of Lords debates on the Domestic Abuse Bill 2020 generated a degree of media interest. Cassandra's work was cited in the i and in the Times, and  at the Public Bill Committee Hearing Cassandra’s proposed reform met with great support from a number of peers, in particular Baroness Hayman, Viscount Goschen and Baroness Bertin, with Baroness Hayman making reference to Cassandra’s research. On 1 March 2021 the Government announced that it was persuaded that it needed to follow recommendations to make post separation abuse a criminal offence.

Cassandra is continuing to use her research to improve criminal law and related policies on coercive control.