There has been three reported convictions under s.76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 in the recent months, following the act coming into force on 29 December 2015.
Adrian Lee was convicted at Liverpool Magistrates’ Court for engaging in controlling/coercive behaviour in an intimate/family relationship and was sentenced to 6 months’ imprisonment. Sam Williams was sentenced at Newcastle Upon Tyne Magistrates Court after pleading guilty to controlling and coercive behaviour in an intimate relationship and was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment. Mohammed Anwaar was jailed for 28 months for a prolonged series of attacks and restrictive and abusive behaviour towards his former partner, 12 months of that sentence was specifically for the charge of controlling and coercive behaviour. The latter case involved both ‘physical and mental abuse’ with the victim being told ‘what clothes to wear, when she could see her friends and family’ and ‘forced to run every day on a treadmill until she had burned off 500 calories.’ Other cases involved the perpetrator stopping the victim from using her mobile phone and controlling use of social media, and monitoring where she had been by making her keep parking receipts.
Section 76 formed part of the Government’s wider plan to improve the police response to victims of domestic abuse. A view shared by Detective Constable Ian Chamberlain of South Yorkshire police, who investigated the case of Mohammed Anwaar, who said ”the new law gave…officers another way to tackle those who commit domestic abuse.” This new law is seen as a sign of a shift in thinking with the psychological damage of domestic abuse being recognised and carries a maximum prison sentence of five years. It is designed to cover all actions abusers do to their victims that are not physically violent.
With increased public knowledge of the offence following this conviction, and recent storyline in Radio 4’s The Archers, the awareness of domestic abuse is increasing and the options for victims to exit these controlling and coercive relations are becoming more apparent. Polly Neate, chief executive of the charity Women's Aid said "From February last year to February this year we saw a 20% increase in calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline” which they attribute in part to the “'Archers' effect'".
As with all legislation, how the court takes it forward remains to be seen, however, recent developments do appear to be sending a clear message that the law is there to protect victims of abuse.