Co-authored by Isabel Strahan
- Coercive control is now illegal with the passing of the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Coercive Control) Bill 2022 by the NSW Government.
- The maximum penalty, if found guilty of this offence, is seven years imprisonment.
- The amendments aim to encompass patterns of behaviour that amount to domestic violence but were not covered in the previous legislation.
On October 19th 2022, the NSW Government’s Bill to criminalise coercive control was passed in the Lower House, with unanimous support. In doing so, NSW became the first Australian state to criminalise coercive control.
The monumental creation of the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Coercive Control) Bill 2022 aims to identify the precursors of domestic violence, support victims, and prevent domestic violence-related deaths through early intervention.
The creation of this Bill further notes that coercive control is not a warning that violence is about to occur, but rather is recognised as a form of violence in and of itself.
Policy Considerations of the Creation of the New Law
Since the murder of Hannah Clarke and her three children in Brisbane 2020, coercive control has been at the political forefront- demanding action.
Whilst the inquiry into Hannah’s death found that there was no evidence of physical violence between her and her estranged husband, Rowan Baxter, she had been subject to escalating forms of controlling and possessive behaviour, mainly sexual and emotional, for many years leading up to her murder.
Attorney-General Mark Speakman stated, “domestic abuse victim-survivors tell us commonly that what is worse than bruises or broken bones is the pattern of psychological, sexual, spiritual, financial and other abuse that has them trapped in their own homes.”
What is considered ‘coercive control’?
Coercive control is a form of domestic violence that involves a pattern of behaviour that cumulatively denies the victim of their autonomy and independence. This offence encompasses the pattern of psychological, sexual, spiritual, financial, and other forms of abuse that effects many Australians, however, was previously not included in domestic violence legislation.
Coercive control has been proven to be a precursor to serious domestic violence incidents, including homicide, as the perpetrators use controlling and harassing behaviours to deny their partner of their independence.
What could be regarded as coercive control may include intimidation, derogatory taunts, damaging property, causing the injury or death of a family pet, denying financial autonomy, withholding financial support, or using technology to monitor or track a persons’ communications or movements. It can also include threats to third parties (for example, the partners’ child), preventing a partner from making or keeping connections with their family, friends, or culture and dictating what the partner should wear.
The criminalisation of this behaviour intends to intervene in relationships where domestic violence spans across a variety of avenues and circumstances, hopefully before physical abuse occurs.
How is this offence proven?
The prosecution bears the onus of proof in criminal proceedings. Therefore, they would need to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that the alleged offender had the intention that their behaviour would cause the victim physical or mental harm, or they were reckless as to whether it would cause the victim harm. There would also need to be evidence of repeated misbehaviour and an evident impact on the victim’s ability to act freely.
The intention element has been heavily criticised for making the threshold too high in relation to the application of these laws on ‘intimate relationships.’. Oftentimes, someone may feel as if they have the right to control these aspects of their intimate partner’s life, but it doesn’t amount to them intentionally causing harm.
However, when asked, Mr Speakman responded with the following statement “we could have kept consulting for years and years and years chasing the perfect but let’s start today with something that is a massive change already in NSW and build on that years in to come.”
What is the penalty?
If found guilty of coercive control, the maximum penalty is seven years imprisonment.
If you find yourself being charged with coercive control and require a lawyer, the Criminal Team and Coutts Lawyers and Conveyancers are happy to help you navigate this new offence. Please contact our office on 1300 268 887 or alternatively, make a booking online to see a solicitor for an initial consultation.
If you need help and are suffering from domestic violence, the below services are available to you:
- Lifeline 13 11 14
- Mensline 1300 789 978
- Kids Helpline 1800 551 800
- Beyond Blue 1300 224 636
- Domestic Violence Line 1800 65 64 63
- 1800-RESPECT 1800 737 732
ABOUT LARA MENON:
Lara Menon joined the Coutts Lawyers & Conveyancers team in August 2018, working within our Criminal and Family Law teams. Her swift advancement from Paralegal, Law Graduate, Lawyer, Senior Lawyer and most recently, Senior Associate in February 2022, is a testament to her astute legal skills and commitment to client service excellence.
Earlier in 2019, Lara was selected by the NSW Law Society to undertake an internship with the NSW Coroner’s Court, working as a Judge’s Associate for the Deputy State Coroner.
For further information please don’t hesitate to contact:
ABOUT ISABEL STRAHAN:
Isabel joined the Coutts team in January 2022, as a Paralegal working within our Family & Criminal teams. She is currently studying a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Arts, Majoring in International Relations and Minoring in Cultural Studies at the University of Wollongong. It is her dedication and hardworking nature that will see her go far within Coutts.
For further information please don’t hesitate to contact:
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This blog is merely general and non-specific information on the subject matter and is not and should not be considered or relied on as legal advice. Coutts is not responsible for any cost, expense, loss or liability whatsoever to this blog, including all or any reliance on this blog or use or application of this blog by you.