A new crime of domestic abuse could be created under government proposals aimed at better protecting victims and their families.
The consultation seeks whether the current law on domestic abuse needs to be strengthened to offer better protection to victims. It is specifically focused on whether Home Secretary Theresa May should create a specific offence that captures patterns of coercive and controlling behaviour in intimate relationships, inline with the government’s non-statutory definition of domestic abuse. Existing law already covers coercive and controlling behaviour – but it does not explicitly apply to relationships.
Earlier this year Mrs May ordered chief constables to come up with domestic abuse action plans by September. Last year ministers redefined domestic abuse, telling forces and other criminal justice agencies that it included both violence and acts of psychological control that left victims in terror.
There are a string of laws that already cover acts of violence, stalking and harassment but none of them refer in their wording to personal relationships or the precise terms of the official definition of domestic abuse.
Official definition of domestic abuse in England and Wales:
Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality.
The behaviour captured in this definition includes:
A pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.
Ministers are now asking whether a specific crime would end any ambiguity, leaving police in no doubt over their powers to intervene. The offence could cover not just acts of violence but incidents of psychological control which cut off victims from friends and family, or deny them money or other means to live freely.