Recently, two of our Sydney family lawyers recently had the honour of hearing from the Honourable Justice Garry Watts, retired Judge of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, regarding the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Coercive Control) Bill 2022, passed by the NSW Government in October 2022. The presentation was jointly hosted by the Family Law and Criminal Subcommittees of the Law Society of New South Wales.

The passing of the new ‘coercive control laws’ makes NSW the first Australian state to criminalise coercive control. The Coercive Control Bill seeks to amend the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) to criminalise coercive control in current and former intimate partner settings, imposing a maximum sentence of 7 years imprisonment.

What is Coercive Control?

Coercive control can best be described as systematic patterns of behaviour with the cumulative effect of denying individuals their independence and autonomy, which sadly is too often exhibited in domestic relationships.

This form of abuse can include physical, sexual, psychological, or financial abuse, and can include a range of non-physical behaviours such as interfering with victim-survivors’ relationships with their families, monitoring their movements, restricting their access to money, and emotionally abusive behaviours such as calling them names and insulting them.

Policy Considerations

The Parliamentary Joint Select Committee on Coercive Control established a high correlation between coercive control and homicides in domestic relationships, and it is the government’s responsibility to intervene where criminal behaviour exists. Coercive control is now known to be a factor in potentially preventable domestic violence homicides, with one woman a week in Australia being murdered by her current or former partner.

Breakdown of the New Laws

The Act’s primary purpose is to amend the Crimes Act 1900 by making it an offence for an adult to engage in repeated or continuous abusive behaviour against a current or former intimate partner. The Act will amend the Crimes Act by making it an offence for an adult to engage in repeated or continuous abusive behaviour against a current or former intimate partner with the insertion into the Act, after section 54B, of a new Division 6A entitled ‘Abusive behaviour towards intimate partners.’ However, the Act cannot be applied retrospectively, as it only applies in relation to abusive behaviour that occurred on or after the commencement of the new Division.

Section 54C

Defines an intimate partner as a person who is or has been married to the first person or is or has been a de facto partner of the first person or has had an intimate personal relationship with the first person or whether the intimate relationship involves or has involved a relationship of a sexual nature.

Section 54D

Outlines the elements of abusive behaviour towards current or former intimate partners: Firstly, a regular course of conduct against another person that consists of abusive behaviour. Secondly, that the persons involved were intimate partners. Thirdly, that the adult intends the course of conduct to coerce or control the other person.

Lastly, it is required that a reasonable person would consider the course of conduct would be likely, in all the circumstances, to cause fear that violence will be used against the other person or another person, or a serious adverse impact on the capacity of the other person to engage in the person’s ordinary day-to-day activities.

The course of conduct may be constituted by any combination of abusive behaviours, and whether the course of conduct consists of abusive behaviour must be assessed by considering the totality of the behaviours. Perhaps most notable about section 54D is that the abusive behaviour must be intentional, as reckless behaviour is not sufficient.

Section 54G

Defines course of conduct as repeated or continuing behaviour. An example would be depriving access to finances. This conduct does not have to be engaged in an unbroken series of incidents, or in immediate succession, and can be conduct which includes behaviour engaged in NSW or NSW and another jurisdiction.

Other Amendments

In addition, the Act amends section 6A of the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007 to provide that the coercive control offence falls within the definition of domestic violence offence, to include wide ranging descriptions of abusive coercive controlling behaviour.

The Act also amends the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999 to extend provisions in that Act in relation to victim impact statements to the coercive control offence. Finally, the Act amends the Criminal Procedure Act 1986 to provide that the coercive control offence must be dealt with summarily, unless the prosecutor or person charged elects to have the offence dealt with on indictment.

Offering Compassionate Legal Support in Your Time of Need

You don’t have to go through it alone.

Our team of family lawyers at O’Sullivan Legal can help you navigate this new offence should you be subject to coercive control or any domestic violence.

Speak to us today to discuss your matter so we can strategise the best possible legal solution for you.