How can Non-Violent Abuse Best be Policed?

by ChilternLaw on September 23, 2014

Criminal law has recently started to delve deeper than ever into the realm of personal human relationships. There has been much talk around the prospect of domestic violence, previously prosecuted under more general offences, becoming a crime in its own right. Recently, non-violent emotional and psychological abuse and neglect of children has faced the prospect of becoming a crime under the “Cinderella Law,” a bill currently on its way through parliament. Now, there is talk of making non-violent abuse of a partner, such as controlling behaviour or emotional bullying into a crime as well.

Home Secretary Theresa May said: “I want perpetrators to be in no doubt that their cruel and controlling behaviour is criminal.” As examples, the Home office has cited people “threatening [their partners] with violence, cutting them off from friends and family or refusing them access to money in order to limit their freedom.”

Of course, there is no doubt about the fact that abuse is not necessarily physical. Many people are trapped miserably in harmful relationships with people who never lay a finger on them violently, yet manage to cause them no less pain than a physical abuser. The proposed new domestic violence laws seek to reflect this, and to expand legal definitions of what constitutes abuse in order to catch domestic abusers of every kind. However, there are undeniable practical problems with such a law, and this has left the government with one central question; how will such things be policed?

The home office recently published a consultation paper discussing the possibility of criminalising non-violent domestic abuse. In the paper, it set out to discuss the practicalities surrounding such a law and the question of enforcement in the hope of reaching an adequate answer. The paper went some way to establishing a practical system for the actual implementation of the law, including the identification of certain specific behaviours such as those outlined above, but it is still not a complete ready-to-implement system.

The problem of policing this law stems effectively from the fact that many of the concepts that could constitute non-violent abuse are subjective, abstract, imprecise or difficult to evidence. This could lead to considerable difficulties in identifying whether abuse really has taken place and, if so, the severity of it. It could also lead to a situation where victims struggle to provide evidence for a crime or, conversely, where a crime has to be prosecuted on the basis of little evidence. Some have also felt that such a law would delve too deeply into the realm of personal relationships and, combined with difficulty in defining and assessing certain aspects of psychological abuse, could amount to trying to legislate people into behaving well towards each other.

Ultimately, the question of whether such a law could effectively be implemented and policed is one that has yet to be answered. This is now the issue that the Home Office must tackle before any such concept could be enshrined in legislation.


This article was written by Chiltern Law, expert criminal, road traffic and motoring offence solicitors based in Oxfordshire.

Chiltern Law are a specialist criminal and motoring law firm offering the highest levels of case preparation, legal representation and customer service.

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