Defining coercive or controlling behaviour

Last week HHJ Dancey published a second judgment in a case involving allegations of rape and domestic abuse including coercive and controlling behaviour (the judgment is A Child (Application of PD12J : No.2 – Findings of Fact) [2022] EWFC 2). He didn’t find the behaviour proved. Although the facts and specifics are interesting, that is not what this post is about. This post is about a single line of the judgment which made me say ‘hang on a minute….’ and which reminded me that I’d wanted for a while to write something looking at the meaning of coercive and controlling behaviour (or CCB), because sometimes I’m not sure we’re all singing from the same hymn sheet.

Whilst I was mulling over how I might approach this post (I didn’t have time to tackle it immediately) I popped up a quick tweet to test the waters – I think that the ensuing thread demonstrates there are a range of views on the subject. You can read that here (and thank you to all the contributors to that thread, which helped shape this post – all the good ideas are yours, the nonsense my own etc).

For those interested in the specifics of the Dancey case itself (sorry to identify it by judge, it doesn’t have a snappy title), you can read about the first judgment (the mother’s successful appeal) here (that post also links to the first judgment). This more recent judgment sets out the judge’s findings and reasons following a fact finding hearing. Although the judge found that the father’s non-disclosure of his HIV status over many years was emotionally and psychologically abusive, he didn’t believe the mother’s allegations, including those of rape (which he thought were fabricated following the revelation of the HIV status). He therefore didn’t accept the allegations of controlling and coercive behaviour were proved.

In passing, HHJ Dancey said this :

Controlling and coercive behaviour is defined in PD12J in terms of behaviour used (coercive) or designed (controlling) to harm a victim. In my view, to prove controlling or coercive behaviour (rather than more widely defined domestic abuse) does require an element of intent on the part of the perpetrator to bring about the harmful effects of their behaviour. (pa 179) [my emphasis]

I say ‘in passing’, because this was a case where the judge simply didn’t believe the mother, and so his decision doesn’t really turn on the definition of coercive and controlling behaviour – in other cases though, it could be more important. And that’s what this post is about. It isn’t a critique of the Dancey judgment, it just uses the quote above as a springboard for discussion in an area where I think there might be some divergence of views or at least some fuzziness, as illustrated on the thread. I think there are a range of respectable views about the issues I canvass here, but this is my take and I’d be interested in other people’s thoughts upon it. I’m sorry that the post is a bit *ahem* discursive (by which I mean rambly and repetitive), but if I’m going to be writing about law on a weekend I like to throw off the shackles of writing as an advocate just a little bit…

A recurring theme in many of the cases that I see in the Family Court is that abusers very often don’t see their behaviour as abusive or controlling or coercive, they see it as normal, reasonable and justified – and they don’t see their individual acts as significant, because they minimise, dismiss or are utterly blind to the effect of their behaviour on the recipient, or view their reaction as overblown or hypersensitive. In short, many perpetrators of objectively abusive and harmful behaviour accept at least some of what they did, they just don’t see anything wrong with it.

But anyone who has ever seen the reports produced at the end of a perpetrator’s programme (or sat through a fact finding hearing) knows that helping a perpetrator to identify their thought processes and to name behaviour as controlling and abusive is a long piece of work – and not always successful. A part of what enables some to perpetrate this sort of behaviour is an inability or failure to empathise, to think about or appreciate what their behaviour will mean for others. It’s not just those who do it intentionally who pose a risk. Those who don’t even see what they are doing as a problem can be as problematic and as dangerous as those who absolutely do.

In the Family Court, I don’t think that any definition of domestic abuse or CCB that doesn’t capture both these categories of individuals is a helpful one. That’s why I’ve taken the time to write this post.


So. What is the legal context when a family court is asked to decide on allegations of behaviour described as ‘coercive’ or ‘controlling’?

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.


We start with PD12J. Since 1 October 2021, when s63 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 (I’m going to call this ‘the DAA’) came into force, the definitions of the various sub-categories of domestic abuse have been refined and expanded by incorporating the definitions of domestic abuse in the DAA (Section 63, by the way, is that part of the Act which deems a person complaining of domestic abuse as vulnerable for the purposes of ‘special measures’ (now known as ‘participation directions’ under PD3AA)). For those of you who have not picked up this adjustment to PD12J yet, check out the autumn supplement to your Red Book (Family Court Practice). For those without a Red Book check the up to date version of the PD on here. From the Dancey judgment it’s not clear whether the judge had been referred to the amended version of the PD, though the bits he quoted haven’t changed.

So, what does PD12J tell us about domestic abuse and what its various components actually mean?

Well, firstly, it tells us ‘domestic abuse’ has the same meaning as in the DAA, and the PD sets out section 1, 2 and 2B of the Act in full, just to be sure we understand that. I’m not going to set it all out here but the core part (from section 1) is this :

(3) Behaviour is “abusive” if it consists of any of the following—

(a) physical or sexual abuse;

(b) violent or threatening behaviour;

(c) controlling or coercive behaviour;

(d) economic abuse (see subsection (4));

(e) psychological, emotional or other abuse;

and it does not matter whether the behaviour consists of a single incident or a course of conduct.

(There is also a requirement that the people concerned have to be personally connected, which is defined. For our purposes, people involved in Children Act proceedings are almost always going to be personally connected so we need not worry about it).

So, controlling or coercive behaviour between connected persons amounts to domestic abuse, but coercive and controlling behaviour isn’t defined. Not here at any rate. It is defined in two other places.

Firstly, it is defined later on in the PD, where the old wording picks up and sets out the same working definition that has been in use for years, and which is taken from the cross- government definition of domestic abuse. This is the definition that HHJ Dancey was referring to :

‘For the purposes of this practice direction…

coercive behaviour’ means an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten the victim;

‘controlling behaviour’ means an act or pattern of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour; [my emphasis]

But, you might ask, if ‘Domestic Abuse’ has the same meaning as in the DAA, and the DAA talks about coercive and controlling behaviour – what does the DAA mean when it refers to coercive and controlling behaviour? And if that definition is different to the pre-existing PD12J definition, which prevails now that both are incorporated into the PD?

Good (if slightly convoluted) question, I asked that too! What a coincidence…

In fact, the DAA itself doesn’t specifically define CCB at all (and nor does its related statutory guidance, which is currently still in draft form). There isn’t an overarching ‘interpretation’ section in the DAA, and although the sub-type of domestic abuse listed immediately after CCB (economic abuse) has its own specific definition set out in a later subsection, CCB does not. The drafters appear to have thought that its meaning was already clear. As far as I’m aware it is only defined in statute in one place – s76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015, which made CCB a criminal offence.

Now the DAA is not a specifically criminal or civil piece of legislation. It is a sort of hybrid. In later sections in the DAA, it makes amendments to s76 of the SCA 2015 (expanding its application in ways not material for our purposes).

Without wanting to get too bogged down in statutory interpretation, that to me is a signal that the undefined ‘coercive and controlling behaviour’ in section 1 of the DAA, must be referring to the same thing as in the later section (section 68, if you are interested).

The title of section 76 SCA 2015 is ‘Controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship’. Criminal law is not my thing, so I don’t profess any expertise here, but it is clear from the wording of the section that Section 76 is probably a complicated offence to prosecute. It has a lot of components – or boxes that need ticking – before an offence can be proved. And it has a defence which is probably a bit tricky too.

So, what’s required to prove CCB in a criminal context?

  • As with the DAA definition – the victim and perpetrator must be personally connected (again, usually a given for our purposes);
  • the behaviour has to be repeated (more than once);
  • it has to have a ‘serious effect’ on the victim, which means that the behaviour causes the victim to be put in fear, on at least two occasions, that violence will be used against them, or the behaviour causes the victim ‘serious alarm or distress which has a substantial adverse effect on [their] usual day-to-day activities’;
  • The behaviour must be such that the perpetrator knows or ought to know that it will have a serious effect on the victim;
  • there is a defence available if it can be shown* that in engaging in the behaviour in question, the alleged perpetrator believed that they were acting in the complainant’s best interests, and the behaviour was ‘in all the circumstances reasonable’. But this defence doesn’t apply where the behaviour has caused the victim to be put in fear.

*(I’m not going to get into the detail of what’s required to make out this defence here – shifting burdens and standards and all that are immaterial for our purposes – but in rough and ready summary, if the defendant raises enough evidence to get this off the ground then its back to the prosecution to prove it wasn’t reasonable – to the criminal standard – don’t shoot me if I’ve got this wrong, criminal lawyers!)

On one view there is a gap between HHJ Dancey’s definition of CCB involving an intent requirement (based, in fairness to him, on part of the express wording of PD12J, albeit without any reference to the amended version that applies from 1 Oct 2022) and the equivalent criminal offence. The way they treat intention or motivation is, to me, distinctly different. Having scratched my head about how to square this circle I’ve come to the conclusion that the meaning of CCB in a PD12J Family Court context doesn’t require intent, at least not in the straightforward black and white way that the wording HHJ Dancey quoted suggests on its face.

Now. I know some of you (the nerdy ones, let’s face it) will be shouting at your computer screens about Re R (R (Children) [2018] EWCA Civ 198). That, for those of you who don’t know, was a case which made clear that the job that the Family Court is doing when in fact finding mode is completely different from the task of a criminal court. Indeed it is. And the Court of Appeal affirmed that in H-N And Others (Children) (Domestic Abuse: Finding of Fact Hearings) (Rev 2) [2021] EWCA Civ 448 (H-N). The purpose of fact finding in the Family Court is to identify harm, to inform the assessment of risk and to promote the making of safe decisions for individual children. It’s not to do with personal liberty or punishment or community safety. We don’t need convoluted criminal frameworks to define ‘offences’ and defences and a shifting burden of proof. That’s my summary and wording, by the way. This is what the Court of Appeal said in Re R :

The focus and purpose of a fact-finding investigation in the context of a case concerning the future welfare of children in the Family Court are wholly different to those applicable to the prosecution by the State of an individual before a criminal court. The latter is concerned with the culpability and, if guilty, punishment for a specific criminal offence, whereas the former involves the determination facts, across a wide canvas, relating to past events in order to evaluate which of a range of options for the future care of a child best meets the requirements of his or her welfare. Similarly, where facts fall to be determined in the course of ordinary civil litigation, the purpose of the exercise, which is to establish liability, operates in a wholly different context to a fact-finding process in family proceedings. Reduced to simple basics, in both criminal and civil proceedings the ultimate outcome of the litigation will be binary, either ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’, or ‘liable’ or ‘not liable’. In family proceedings, the outcome of a fact-finding hearing will normally be a narrative account of what the court has determined (on the balance of probabilities) has happened in the lives of a number of people and, often, over a significant period of time. The primary purpose of the family process is to determine, as best that may be done, what has gone on in the past, so that that knowledge may inform the ultimate welfare evaluation where the court will choose which option is best for a child with the court’s eyes open to such risks as the factual determination may have established. at [62].

H-N reminds us that, in Re R, Hickinbottom LJ’s concurring judgment ‘very firmly’ agreed with McFarlane LJ (that’s him above), saying that

importation of concepts from the criminal courts to the Family Court’ is ‘inappropriate, unnecessary and unwise, and should be avoided.

Alright. But PD12J does actually seem to import a criminal concept into the framework for dealing with domestic abuse by importing parts of the DAA. When the Family Procedure Rules Committee imported section 1 of the DAA into the PD did they mean to import the criminal definition of CCB? Had they twigged it was (arguably) different to the wording in the PD already (the wording they left in)? I don’t know. But we do have to work on the basis that a PD means what it says. So how do we square the specific wording of ‘designed to’ and ‘used to’ with the more sophisticated approach to knowledge and intention in the criminal version? And how do we do it without getting tied in the sort of knots that Re R tells us not to get mixed up in?

It must be right, surely, that the broad definition of CCB in the criminal court must be compatible with that in the Family Court?

So let’s look a little at what the criminal context seems to do with knowledge and intent and then we’ll go back to how we might interpret the internal PD definition of CCB.

In the criminal court the definition specifically includes a scenario where a defendant is unaware his conduct is having a serious effect, but where he ought to know it would. Basically, CCB can be made out on the basis of what lawyers call ‘constructive knowledge’.

We can also get some help here from the statutory guidance on this offence, which notwithstanding the references to ‘designed to’ and ‘used to’, relies upon the same cross-governmental definition of coercive or controlling behaviour that we see pulled through into our family PD, and which motivated and underpinned the creation of the offence. The guidance says :

Controlling or coercive behaviour does not relate to a single incident, it is a purposeful pattern of behaviour which takes place over time.

The guidance also makes clear that constructive knowledge factor applies to the impact on the victim – the perpetrator still presumably needs to know he was doing the act itself in the way that is usually required in a criminal context. And of course, knowledge of the law doesn’t matter here – he doesn’t need to appreciate that what he is doing is a criminal offence. But he doesn’t need to know about the likely serious effects – that is to say (approximately) he doesn’t have to appreciate how bad or debilitating his behaviour is. Again, helpfully, the statutory guidance tells us that ‘“Ought to know” means that which a reasonable person in possession of the same information would know.’ That’s the important bit. Others can see it and name it – and find it proved – even if he doesn’t get it.

And we can see that, even in the criminal context, those same words ‘designed to’ and ‘used to’ didn’t lead to the creation of an offence requiring direct knowledge of impact, and nor has the cross-governmental definition been amended to match the terms of s76 once passed – presumably because its not seen as incompatible.

So, the perpetrator can be an idiot who doesn’t appreciate the seriously harmful effect of his actions, but he can still be guilty of CCB. Which is as it should be. Surely that must also be the correct approach to CCB in a PD12J context?

I don’t think this very same language of ‘designed to’ and ‘used to’ can be justifiably used to narrow what we mean by CCB in a family context, particularly since the quite proper primary focus of such proceedings is on impact of behaviour rather than intent (or insight). Here, intent is relevant not to the question of whether CCB is proved in the first place, but to the subsequent question of what risks it gives rise to and what can and should be done about it.

More to the point, if one takes the importation of section 1 of the DAA into the PD as either a confirmation that the criminal and family CCBs broadly mirror one another or an importation of a phenomenon that includes behaviour where there is only constructive as opposed to actual knowledge of serious effect – we don’t need to read the words as HHJ Dancey did.

I don’t think this offends the warnings in Re R [2018] EWCA Civ 198 that

it is fundamentally wrong for the Family Court to be drawn into an analysis of factual evidence in proceedings relating to the welfare of children based upon criminal law principles and concepts. […] ‘what matters in a fact-finding hearing are the findings of fact’. 

This was expanded upon by Cobb J in F v M (Appeal: Finding of Fact) [2019] EWHC 3177 (Fam), an appeal concerning an allegation of rape where there had been a focus at first instance on the criminal definition of rape and in particular conditional consent :

There is a risk in a case such as this, where the alleged conduct at the heart of the fact-finding enquiry is, or could be, of a criminal nature, for the family court to become too distracted by criminal law concepts. Although the family court may be tempted to consider the ingredients of an offence, and any defence available, when considering conduct which may also represent an offence, it is not of course directly concerned with the prosecution of crime. On the contrary:

“In family proceedings, the outcome of a fact-finding hearing will normally be a narrative account of what the court has determined (on the balance of probabilities) has happened in the lives of a number of people and, often, over a significant period of time. The primary purpose of the family process is to determine, as best that may be done, what has gone on in the past, so that that knowledge may inform the ultimate welfare evaluation where the court will choose which option is best for a child with the court’s eyes open to such risks as the factual determination may have established.”
Re R [2018] EWCA Civ 198 at [62].

Nor, I think does H-N cause a problem for my argument. H-N approved Re R and Cobb J in F v M. It disapproved Russell J in JH v MF (conditionally). The Court of Appeal said this at paras 72-73:

The point made in Re R and now in this judgment is different; it is that Family courts should avoid analysing evidence of behaviour by the direct application of the criminal law to determine whether an allegation is proved or not proved. A further example can be drawn where the domestic abuse involves violence. The Family Court may well make a finding as to what injury was caused, but need not spend time analysing whether in a criminal case the charge would allege actual bodily harm or grievous bodily harm.

It follows therefore that a Family judge making a finding on the balance of probabilities is not required to decide, and does not decide, whether a criminal offence has been proved to the criminal standard.

What I’m advocating is for the shape of the thing we call CCB to be consistent with the criminal version of that thing – because the PD now incorporates their definition (at least by implication) AND because it advances the purpose of the fact finding exercise – to inform risk assessment and sound welfare decisions. I’m not advocating for us to import all that complicated malarkey about defences and criminal standards and shifting burdens and mens rea and blah blah… Just to interpret what we require in terms of intent in a common sense way.

The alternative to borrowing some approximation of the criminal notion of constructive knowledge of impact is that one is potentially left with a strict, literal reading of the words ‘used to’ and ‘designed to’ in the PD definition, and the potentially ludicrous consequence that if the perpetrator doesn’t think he’s behaving abusively or if he doesn’t think his behaviour is controlling – then it isn’t control, and as such is not part of the picture of domestic abuse that the court is considering. Obviously, the idea is not that when a family judge encounters this sort of scenario she draws stumps and ignores negatively impactful, objectively abusive behaviour simply because the perpetrator didn’t intend to cause harm. The idea is that the finding of control is made (if evidenced) and the judge notes the lack of insight to assist down the line. Both parts of that finding will inform next steps.

In the Family Court what matters first is impact, not intent. Whatever he thought he was doing at the time, it was harmful, abusive, impactful. The relevance of intent – or perhaps better to say awareness – is in helping the court to work out how easy it is to help or compel a person to stop the behaviour and break the patterns (risk reduction), in helping the court to work out how likely it is to keep happening (ongoing risk), and whether or not behaviour is likely to abate or escalate in response to changing circumstances (risk projection). So yes, the court should be making findings about the perpetrator’s mindset, where that is a permissible inference to draw from the evidence. In family proceedings this has an important function.

I fully appreciate the guidance in H-N that not everything requires a fact finding hearing. I do say that at the coalface the Catch 22 is that it is in the nature of allegations of CCB that they may appear superficially to be trivial, but until you try them the pernicious effect of behaviour is difficult to assess and appreciate. Whilst minor, unintentional bad behaviour, particularly that which is bound up only with the ending of a relationship might not justify this sort of treatment, some un-intentional conduct – the sort that a perpetrator ought to have known would have a cumulative material impact on his partner – really does need to be grappled with. Again, constructive knowledge comes to our rescue in working out roughly where that borderline might be, though even constructive knowledge is not a magic bullet. The Court of Appeal in H-N were visibly wrestling with the tension between principle and practice – and the obvious resources implications of high numbers of lengthy fact finding hearings. As indicated in H-N, a focus on (alleged) impact (at the time and since) on the victim and children is likely to be a good way of working out which cases need a trial of fact.

The wise words of Peter Jackson LJ in Re L (Relocation: Second Appeal)[2017] EWCA Civ 2121 (§61) are helpful here in, (also cited with approval in Re H-N at §32):

“… not all directive, assertive, stubborn, or selfish behaviour, will be ‘abuse’ in the context of proceedings concerning the welfare of a child; much will turn on the intention of the perpetrator of the alleged abuse and on the harmful impact of the behaviour.”

I’m not an advocate of an over-expansive and unmanageable definition of CCB: but both intention and impact will be critical to working out which allegations really need to be determined as a precursor to the Family Court making welfare decisions. Behaviour done without full appreciation of impact may be very harmful (and that harm may continue after behaviour has subsided), and behaviour carried out with very specific malign intention may be very high risk even if – so far – it has not been particularly harmful. Both these limbs require attention before orders are made. And one of the reasons I’m thinking this through openly on the blog is that I know that judges up and down the country are desperately trying to square the circle of how to actually cater for all the court time that a proper handling of domestic abuse and particularly CCB allegations require, without the resources. Judges simultaneously pulled in the direction of a more sophisticated and sensitive handling of domestic abuse allegations (i.e. more and longer fact finding hearings) whilst also reducing and managing the overwhelming caseload through robust issue analysis and case management might well be tempted to grab any lifeline that would contain the ever-expanding reach of domestic abuse – do I really need to deal with this?

On one level it could be argued that labels don’t really matter and I’m making a fuss about nothing – as long as a judge in her fact finding judgment says what happened, says what impact it had on the parent and the children and says what it can about the perpetrator’s motivation and insight. But it isn’t quite that simple. Should a judge decide that a particular pattern of behaviour is not to be identified as ‘controlling’ or ‘coercive’ simply because the perpetrator didn’t realise he was being controlling or coercive or didn’t realise what a negative effect it would have? No. Labels matter for lots of reasons. We do need a common language to describe this stuff, to site individual cases and events in a broader context, so we can draw on wider research and other knowledge bases to predict and manage risk and promote change. Public funding for victims – and soon for perpetrators when the ban on cross examination comes into force – is linked to terminology. Special accommodations under PD3AA (and in equivalent provisions in other jurisdictions, including now in the CPR) are linked to terminology. And labels also matter to survivors, because they are an acknowledgment of their experiences and a way to enable them to talk about and move on from them – as well as a way to access services outside proceedings. For perpetrators too, a finding is a gateway to treatment and help.

I will spare you a run through all the other Family Court authorities on CCB here, bar one. Others I considered were :

I just want briefly to look at GK v PR [2021] EWFC 106, because it is the decision of Peel J that HHJ Dancey took issue with when setting out his view of what CCB meant. Peel J was dealing with an appeal from a Recorder. He quotes the trial judge as saying that

“the real question for any future court having regard to the child’s welfare is whether the words or actions alleged show a course of conduct by which [PR] is deliberately [my emphasis] coercive, controlling and undermining of [GK] so that domestic abuse becomes a serious issue in this case”.

before going on to say,

I cannot accept that intentional misconduct is a pre-requisite for a finding of abusive behaviour. In this regard, I was referred to Re T (2017] EWCA Civ 1889 in which it was said at para 42 that: “…none of the authorities require that a positive intent to molest must be established

As HHJ Dancey correctly points out in his judgment, Re T is a case with a slightly different context – it is talking about ‘molestation’ in the context of a non-molestation application, and an entirely different statutory framework – but to me the two things are analogous (as Peel J clearly thought). Peel J’s reasoning is not expansive on this point – it is another example of two judges coming to different conclusions as regards the correct interpretation of the words in PD12J.

The full relevant passage in Re T (the non-molestation authority) is this :

When determining whether or not particular conduct is sufficient to justify granting a non-molestation order, the primary focus, as established in the consistent approach of earlier authority, is upon the ‘harassment’ or ‘alarm and distress’ caused to those on the receiving end. It must be conduct of ‘such a degree of harassment as to call for the intervention of the court’ (Horner v Horner and C v B). Although in C v C the phrase ‘was calculated to cause alarm and distress’ was used, none of the authorities require that a positive intent to molest must be established. (para 42)

That to me, emphasises the point that the family jurisdiction is focused on the impact of behaviour on the victim rather than specifically the intention of the perpetrator of it. And one can see in that case that words like ‘calculated to’ – quite similar to those that HHJ Dancey was interpreting in appearing to convey a requirement for intention – do not seem to have been interpreted as meaning intentional behaviour was a necessary component of (in that context) harassment or molestation. There the court was interpreting previous dicta rather than statutory language, but here remember as the statutory guidance relating to s76 AND Hayden J note in F v M [2021] EWFC 4 , the cross-government definition of domestic abuse (including CCB) is ‘not a legal definition’ (And it has changed a number of times over the years). I think that this is precisely the sort of area which requires a purposive interpretation rather than a tight, literal interpretation of individual words, to capture developing understanding as much as the infinite variability of circumstance that confronts the Family Court.

To brutally summarise, coercive or controlling behaviour that is not intended to cause fear of violence, serious alarm or distress can amount to a criminal offence even if it is unintentional – as long as the perpetrator ought to have known it would have a serious effect. It is possible to construe the meaning of words like ‘designed to’ or ‘used to’ of simply meaning that it would likely have the harmful effects contended for and that a reasonable person would know this. I think a judge is entitled to boundary CCB on the basis of what a reasonable person would understand to be controlling / coercive. In fact, I think that is the only way a judge can boundary domestic abuse generally, because a high proportion of domestic abusers do not see their behaviour as abusive. They see it as justified. We cannot judge perpetrators of abuse by their own distorted norms.

This in my mind is broadly aligned with the purpose of the exercise as expressed in most of the family court authorities. I think it is also consistent with the approach of most Family Court judges in practice, notwithstanding the views stated in the Dancey judgment and in places in the twitter thread that focus on the specific terminology used. Finally, it is consistent with the very clearly stated purpose of a fact finding exercise as described by appellate authorities, which PD12J is designed to guide the court to conduct safely and fairly.


A pre-emptive footnote to those who may complain about my use of language

Yes, I have referred to perpetrators and victims and, no, I have not used gender neutral terminology. Yes, I appreciate that sometimes allegations aren’t true and sometimes people aren’t perpetrators. And yes, I appreciate that sometimes abusive behaviour is perpetrated by women rather than only ever against them. But the terminology I’ve used has the advantage of simplicity and clarity and the predominant patterns of domestic abuse allegations (whether true / proved or not).

7 thoughts on “Defining coercive or controlling behaviour

  1. One of the most perceptive, intelligent and important blog articles ever written on this issue. Lucy, if I were Queen, I’d make you a Dame of the British Empire on this blog effort alone! Well done! And it should be make mandatory reading as part of the DV training for all the FC judiciary. I seriously hope thes Right Honourable Sir Andrew McFarlane reads it over his dinner and digests it fully alongside his glass of Port

    • Well, that’s very kind, but I’d settle for a glass of port. Quite partial to a glass of port at Christmas. It’s still just about Christmas, isn’t it?

      • Very well written and informative. Sadly – a core characteristic individuals with personality issues = their total (fixed) inability to see their behaviour. Simply put, it everyone else’s fault.

        Great Post
        Miriam Orwin Victorian Bar – Australia

    • And, at 5638 words.. that’s half a dissertation! Good Grief!

  2. I’ve just completed a FF and received judgment on exactly this issue. [edited for legal reasons] All findings made. Now wondering if I should nudge judge to report case.

  3. Haven’t read the Twitter thread so someone may have covered this already, but isn’t there a parallel to be drawn with chastisement? Plenty of cases (admittedly usually care) where parents/carers think their use of eg physical chastisement is genuinely in child’s best interests, but looked at objectively amounts to abuse. Cannot be right that need to ‘intend’ the harm. I know you are talking about specific definition of CCB here but the point is still relevant I think – the purpose of the family court is to assess impact on child and/or other parent in order to inform and assess future risk, whether public or private law), not about specific definitions or defences to criminal charges.

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