Northumbria PCC welcomes new domestic abuse offence

Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird.
Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird.

The Home Office has announced today that the new coercive and controlling behaviour offence will come into force on Tuesday, December 29.

It will mean victims who experience coercive and controlling behaviours, which can include physical, sexual, emotional, psychological or financial abuse, can bring their perpetrators to justice. The offence will carry a maximum of five years’ imprisonment, a fine or both.

Northumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird QC is a lifelong campaigner against violence against women and girls and welcomes its introduction.

She said: “This is the first time that there will be a criminal offence of domestic abuse. It is called coercive and controlling behaviour and this is very much welcomed. It’s vital we raise awareness that there can be so much more than violence going on in an abusive relationship – so the legislation can make a worthwhile difference to the lives of victims.

“Coercive control is used by perpetrators to control every part of someone’s life, it can be sexual abuse, financial control, constant criticism, isolation from family and friends, repeated threatening texts or stalking whenever the victim is out of sight – all are familiar tools adopted by the abuser.

“It undermines the victim’s confidence and freedom and can go on for weeks months and sometimes for many years leaving victims seriously undermined and afraid, fearing for their safety and sometimes even their lives.

“The new law will help officers to become more proactive in identifying victims who are often too frightened and too controlled to speak out also give victims the confidence to come forward and believe that they will be taken seriously about abuse, even if they have no bruises or scars, and seek the help they need to put an end to their suffering.

“Here in Northumbria, we take violence against women and girls extremely seriously and have been preparing for this announcement. We have trained all police officers, at all ranks, in Northumbria to understand this dreadful crime and they are ready to put their skills to good use on the 29th and beyond.”

Meanwhile, Ms Baird is among those who have welcomed the news, announced by Justice Secretary Michael Gove, that the criminal courts charge is to be abolished, following increasing pressure from campaigners.

For months, she has urged the Government to drop what she describes as ‘unfair and unworkable charges’, which were introduced by previous Justice Secretary Chris Grayling. Now, the criminal courts charge will no longer be imposed, as of Christmas Eve.

Gove has listened to the criticism and also ordered a review of the entire structure, and purpose, of court-ordered financial impositions for offenders, in order to bring greater simplicity and clarity to the system, something also welcomed by Ms Baird.

Crown Prosecution Service representatives, police and solicitors in the region had all spoken to Ms Baird about the charge and had even confirmed to her that the practice of delaying cases to avoid repeat payments of the mandatory criminal courts charge was commonplace.

Ms Baird said: “Justice is important and a tax that promoted fears that defendants were being encouraged to plead guilty to crimes they did not commit to avoid charges was ludicrous – it had to go. In many cases, the charge was responsible for delaying the whole process; seriously inconveniencing people or sustaining the stress or trauma on victims, who we must put first. I am delighted Michael Gove has seen sense and that within weeks we’ll see these charges gone for good.

“This isn’t the end of the matter though. The courts take money from offenders in a number of ways, including fines, the victim surcharge, compensation orders, prosecution costs and the criminal courts charge. It can be complex and confusing and I welcome a review so steps can be made to improve the process for all concerned.”