On 8th August 2022, the trial of ex-Wales football manager and former Manchester United midfielder Ryan Giggs begins at Manchester Crown Court in relation to alleged controlling and coercive behaviour towards his ex-girlfriend Kate Greville between  2017 and 2020 and the common assault of her sister Emma Greville. Mr Giggs has pleaded not guilty to the charges. In this article, we will review what is meant by controlling and coercive behaviour, when such actions constitute a criminal offence, and the defences available under the Serious Crime Act 2015.

What is meant by controlling or coercive behaviour?

Despite controlling or coercive behaviour becoming a criminal offence in 2015, many still do not understand what it means and the consequences of such actions.

According to the cross-Government definition, ‘controlling behaviour’ is “a range 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”.

Coercive behaviour is defined as “a continuing act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten”.

Controlling or coercive behaviour can take many forms but may include actions such as:

  • Deliberately making it difficult for a person to spend time with friends and family
  • Controlling financial resources
  • Spying and monitoring
  • Telling the other person to change their clothing
  • Controlling where a person can go or not go
  • Stopping a person from accessing medical or other support
  • Putting a person down or belittling them repeatedly
  • Humiliated or degrading another person
  • Forcing a person to break the law (e.g. to take part in acts of shoplifting, neglect or abuse of children)
  • Threats to disclose personal details to others
  • Rape

What is considered an offence of controlling or coercive behaviour under the Serious Crime Act 2015?

Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 introduced the new offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in intimate or familial relationships and was intended to close existing gaps in the law. What made the new act particularly significant was that it placed responsibility and accountability solely on the perpetrator who has chosen to carry out controlling and coercive behaviours.

To constitute an offence of controlling or coercive behaviour under the Serious Crime Act 2015, the person carrying out the actions must have:

  • Repeatedly or continuously engaging in controlling or coercive behaviour towards the other person
  • Be personally connected with the other person (i.e. in an intimate relationship together, have previously been in a personal relationship, or members of the same family)
  • The behaviour must have a serious effect on the other person (see below for more details)
  • Known or ought to have known that their behaviour would have a serious effect on the other person.

It is also important to understand what is meant by the term ‘serious effect’. The law states that the behaviour is deemed to have a serious effect if it caused:

  • the other person to fear, on at least two occasions, that violence will be used against them, or
  • the other person serious alarm or distress, which has a substantial adverse effect on their usual day-to-day activities.

What is the penalty for the offence under the Serious Crime Act 2015?

A person found guilty of controlling or coercive behaviour under the Serious Crime Act 2015 faces:

  • Convictions in Crown Court: jail for up to five years, or a fine, or both
  • Convictions in the Magistrates Court: jail for up to 12 months, or a fine, or both

Is there a defence against controlling or coercive behaviour?

Yes. section 76(8) of the Serious Crime Act 2015 provides a statutory defence where a person accused of controlling or coercive behaviour is able to show that they acted in the way they did because they believed it was in the other person’s best interests. For this to apply, the controlling or coercive behaviour must be shown to have been reasonable in the circumstances. In addition, the accused must not have threatened any form of violence.

It is not, however, sufficient just to state that the accused believed their behaviour was in the best interests of the other person. To use this defence, it must be shown that a reasonable person with access to the same information would find the behaviour to be reasonable in all the circumstances.

Of course, the most common defence is where the suspect denies engaging in the behaviour described. This, we understand, will predominantly be Mr Gigg’s defence at trial.

Behaviour in relationships is full of grey areas. A couple of light-hearted examples; I often have to be coerced into attending my partner’s friends barbeque. I also sometimes have to be controlled by my partner from spending half my wages on something I have seen and want very badly. No one would suggest such examples constitute criminal offences. However, when a relationship breaks down, the complainant will often exaggerate complaints. These two examples can easily become “she would make me attend social gatherings expressly against my wishes” and “she would control my finances, I was forbidden to buy items with my own money”. In those circumstances you can see how suspects can feel extremely aggrieved at the allegations put to them by the Police.

Final words

If you have been accused of domestic violence or controlling or coercive behaviour, given the extent of the penalties available to the Courts, it is essential to seek legal advice. Family Solicitors specialising in this area of law understand the legal threshold and evidence needed to find a person guilty under the Serious Crime Act 2015. We also understand the defences available in such cases and will fully leverage these where applicable.

If you have been arrested for controlling or coercive behaviour offences under the Serious Crime Act 2015, our team of solicitors can help. You can contact us through our contact page here.