THE BLOG

Theresa May's New Domestic Coercion Laws May Not Work

26/12/2014 13:19 GMT | Updated 25/02/2015 10:59 GMT

The government is planning new laws against coercive and controlling behavior within relationships - this could include financial control - preventing a partner seeing friends and things like setting oppressive house 'rules'.

If the new law stopped this sort of one sided, oppressive and controlling conduct then it would be well worthwhile but there are likely to be many problems in investigating and prosecuting this sort of crime. I believe the law will be difficult to apply fairly, if it can be applied at all.

The police remain the gatekeepers to the criminal justice system and much depends on them identifying the behavior and gathering evidence for the Crown Prosecution Service to make a decision on whether to prosecute or not.

The police officers will have to assess whether the behavior of one partner constitutes criminal behavior in amongst the complexity of what constitutes any intimate relationship between two people.

If the police are involved then a couple's relationship is already likely to involve arguments and bad feelings towards each other - at least. There could be the one sided controlling and criminal behavior targeted by the new law but it is just as likely that there will be mutual hostility from each person towards the other.

In reality the police will often be faced with situations which are far less one sided than the situation the proposed new laws are meant to address.

How should they judge how one-sided a relationship is - by what measure?

To investigate something as complex as controlling behavior amongst the intricacy of a volatile relationship must surely require some knowledge of what can happen in relationships. What the officers sees could be criminal control of some ones finances or a more 'normal' (even abusive) argument about overspending by one or the other. It could criminal control over a friendship or far less one sided argument that can occur in relationships.

What about situations where one partner is actually making bad financial decisions - could the objections -even if abusive objections of one partner be based on real financial issues - not the one sided oppressive and bullying behavior targeted by the new law?

Won't it require some knowledge of what is normal in a relationship - even a bad one?

Not all officers have that experience of life - unless things have changed since I was a police officer. Any training given will not make up for this lack of that life experience - some online training or even a couple of days classroom training will not provide the level of knowledge required to make a proper assessment.

This will be far more complex a thing to prove than an assault or any of the existing crimes that can already be committed in a domestic setting - and as we know the police often have still have problems enforcing those laws.

What is most likely to happen is that everything will be made simple - as can happen with investigations.

The officer or officers will decide early on who they are investigating and simply take a one sided view of evidence gathering. Once you have a suspect then you can easily ignore the behavior of one party and simply cherry pick evidence against your suspect. Ignore the controlling or abusive behavior of one partner and concentrate on one side only. This will make it easy to make a case - by ignoring the complicated two sided nature of such things. You may well get enough evidence to charge a person - but it won't be fair.

Even though women are subject to more assaults and worse assaults and domestic abuse then men - plenty of men suffer from domestic crime and from bullying. But I believe, that in most cases police will take the view that the man is most likely the one to investigate - and this will sometimes be wrong. Given the complexity of this proposed new offence - it will lead to investigators quickly deciding that the man is most likely the guilty party - when in reality the matter may be far less one sided. Once this decision is made then the selected suspect is well on the way to being charged.

Domestic crime and controlling and abusive behavior is a real and dreadful thing and the law can and should be applied just as it would if it occurred between strangers.

There are plenty of existing laws available already to do more than is done. This new law sounds a good thing - and its intention is right - but it will be very difficult to investigate. It is one thing to make a new law - it is quite another to invest the resources required to really help victims of domestic crime.

New laws are easy - but domestic violence refuges are still being closed down.