Repeal of provisions about defence for controlling or coercive behaviour offence

Part of Domestic Abuse Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 17 June 2020.

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Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice 9:25, 17 June 2020

This is the first of two debates on different aspects of the controlling or coercive behaviour offence in section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015. As the hon. Member for Hove has indicated, new clause 25 seeks to repeal the defence in section 76(8), which has been labelled by some as the “carers’ defence”.

Currently, the coercive or controlling behaviour offence allows for such a limited defence if the accused believes that they were acting in the best interests of the victim. It is important to note that the accused would also need to demonstrate to the court that in all the circumstances of the case their behaviour, while apparently controlling, was reasonable. This defence is intended to cover cases, for instance, in which the accused was the carer for a disabled spouse, and for medical reasons had to compel their partner to take medication or to stay at home for their own protection.

It is worth taking a moment to consider the sorts of circumstances in which that defence might apply. Imagine a situation in which neighbours walk past a home and see someone who wants to get out of the front garden and on to the road, and is in some distress at not being able to do so. That neighbour calls the police, and the police then investigate. It emerges that the person trying to get on to the road is, very sadly, suffering from dementia, and their partner is a person of unimpeachable integrity and good character—a decent, loving partner of many years’ standing who has shown nothing but care and compassion for that individual, but who is concerned that if they get out on to the road, they will be a danger to themselves and others. Is it seriously to be suggested that that person should be at risk of conviction, punishment and disgrace?