Kevin Conlin, 39 from Ramsgate, was sentenced at the start of July 2016 to two years imprisonment at Canterbury Crown Court for the relatively new offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship.
Mr Conlin is believed to be only one of two people to be prosecuted under section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 since its implementation in December 2015. Due to his “obsessive jealousy”, he subjected his partner to three months of controlling behaviour, which included preventing her from going out, seizing and checking her phone and computer, telling her when to go to bed and forcing her to undergo body searches for marks. The cause of Mr Conlin’s action were apparently because he had formed an “erroneous view” that his partner was cheating on him.
In sentencing Mr Conklin, Judge Simon James said that the defendant had sought “to effectively control every part of her life within an environment of fear and threats”. He told the defendant: “You stopped her going out and regularly checked her body for marks and dictating when she had to go to bed. You confiscated and interrogated her telephone – all in the midst of constant allegations of infidelity.” Mr Conklin was sentenced to two years imprisonment.
We will have to wait and see whether more arrests and prosecutions will be brought under this legislation as there are usually a great number of factors that need to be weighed before the decision to prosecute is made. But what actually constitutes controlling or coercive behaviour?
Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015
Under section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015, an offence is committed if:
- ‘A’ repeatedly or continuously engages in behaviour towards another person, B, that is “controlling” or “coercive” (see below);
- At time of the behaviour, ‘A’ and ‘B’ are “personally connected” (which means that they are either (i) in an intimate personal relationship; (ii) they live together and are either members of the same family; or (iii) they live together have previously been in an intimate personal relationship with each other);
- The behaviour has a “serious effect” on B (which means that it either (i) causes B to fear, on at least two occasions, that violence will be used against them; or (ii) causes B serious alarm or distress which has a substantial adverse effect on their day-to-day activities); and
- A knows or ought to know that the behaviour will have a serious effect on B.
Controlling and coercive behaviour can 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
- Repeatedly putting them down, such as telling them they are worthless
- Enforcing rules and activity which humiliate, degrade or dehumanise the victim
- Financial abuse including control of finances, such as only allowing a person a punitive allowance
- Preventing a person from having access to transport or from working
- Preventing a person from being able to attend school, college or university
- Limiting access to family, friends and finances
Clearly the above is not an exhaustive list and it will be open to the courts to consider acts by a defendant and to conclude whether those acts constitute criminal behaviour.
The courts will look at the impact of the behaviour and a “substantial adverse effect” as referred to above can include the victim stopping or changing the way they socialise, a deterioration in physical or mental health, a change in routine at home, putting in place measures at home to safeguard themselves or their children, or changes to work patterns, employment status or routes to work.
This offence is what is known as ‘either way’ which means that it can either be heard at the Magistrates’ or Crown Court. On conviction in the Magistrates’ Court, the maximum sentence is 6 months imprisonment or a fine, or both. In the Crown Court, the maximum sentence is five years imprisonment or a fine, or both.
If you have been arrested or charged with this offence, there are certain defences available and it is important to have expert advice and assistance to navigate through this process. If you feel that you are a victim of such behaviour then you should contact your local police as they will be best placed to take this further.