Skip to main content
Article 

Coercive Control - New Criminal Offence

The Queensland Government has just announced that they will be adopting the recommendations of the Hear Her Voice Report and draft a new criminal offence of Coercive Control.  This article aims to provide information on what is in place currently, and what will be likely introduced.

Why? 

Coercive control has become a growing issue in Queensland following the tragic death of Hannah Clarke and her children in 2020.  As a result the Queensland Government, in March 2022, launched an enquiry into the circumstances that took place. [1] 

In March 2021 the Queensland Government established a special taskforce called the Women's Safety and Justice Taskforce (the Taskforce) . The purpose of the Taskforce was to examine 'coercive control' and assess the need for a separate criminal offence of domestic violence. [2] 

The Taskforce, which is chaired by the Honourable Margaret McMurdo AC, released its first report in December 2021. The Hear her voice report made 89 recommendations to the Government for further reform in the Domestic and Family Violence specialist service systems, to protect victims of domestic violence and hold perpetrators of DV accountable.

It was recommended that a new criminal offence be created to criminalise coercive control, with the suggested reforms to recognise and respond to coercive control as a pattern of behaviour over time in a relationship.

On 10 May 2022 the Queensland Government announced that it would adopt all 89 recommendations of the report, create a new criminal offence for 'coercive control', and establish a new enquiry into the policing responses to domestic and family violence.  

This article will look at what coercive control really is and how the offence will operate in Queensland.

What is it?

Section 8 of the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012 (DVFPA) defines domestic violence to be:-[3]

Behaviour by a person (first person) towards another person (the second person) with whom the first person is in a relationship that is:

  1. Physically or sexually abusive
  2. Emotionally or psychologically abusive
  3. Economically abusive
  4. Threatening
  5. Coercive
  6. Or in any other way controls or dominates the second person and causes the second person to fear fort her second person's safety or wellbeing or that of someone else

There is no single recognised definition of coercive control it is commonly understood to include 'a pattern of behaviour designed to control another person who is or has been in a domestic relationship with the person using the behaviour'. 

Some of the types of behaviour themes identified in these relationships are:-

  • Jealousy or suspicion of friends and family
  • Monitoring of movement of another person
  • Financial Abuse
  • Social isolation
  • Emotionally abusive and or threatening behaviour
  • Micro managing the partners life, including what they can eat, what they do, what they dress, who they can associate with, when they can sleep, or when they can leave the house

Criminal Offence

In Queensland there is no standalone offence that addresses this specific behaviour. Section 8 of the DVFPA identifies a broad range of conduct which is categorised as domestic violence offending, however the act of coercively controlling another person in the context of a domestic relationship, is not yet addressed.

At present there is no legislative provision which gives the Police the power to intervene before the behaviour escalates into an identifiable incident of domestic violence. The Police cannot charge a person for behaviour which may lead to a DV offence, such as an assault or a choking. 

The best example of this would be in a case where a victim of domestic violence may be subject to an assault or choking/strangulation, as an escalation of the coercive behaviour they have been subject to.  In this instance the Police can only intervene at the time of the assault and not before where the coercive behaviour was operating.

What these new provisions seek to do is identify the behaviour of domestic violence before an offence is committed. The response would therefore be proactive rather than reactive, and would ensure the tragedy Hannah Clarke and her children suffered never happens again.

Tasmania is the only State in Australia which has specific laws in place to address coercive and controlling behaviours, however only Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland have established a standalone offence of coercive control. 

As of yet there is no draft provisions of what the law would look like in Queensland, however the Taskforce recommended that the offence of coercive control in Queensland should follow the model adopted in Scotland.

The Scottish Model

The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 introduced an offence of abusive behaviour towards a partner or ex partner where the first person (person A) would engage in a course of behaviour which would be abusive to the second person (person B).

The abusive behaviour in this regard  would include behaviour by person A to person B which would be violent, threatening, or intimidating, including behaviour to a child of the other person.[4]

If the facts of the charge of abusive behaviour could not be fully established, the defendant could alternatively be convicted of other offences of threatening and or abusive behaviour or stalking.[5]  

At law the defence to this charge is to show the court that the behaviour was reasonable in all the circumstances. It is for the defendant to raise evidence of reasonableness. The prosecution must then prove, beyond reasonable doubt that the behaviour by the defendant was not reasonable in all the circumstances. 

If convicted of this offence in a summary jurisdiction (in the Magistrates Court) the maximum penalty is 12 months imprisonment  or 14 years imprisonment if the charge proceeds on indictment to a higher Court.  The offence becomes aggravated if a child is used as part of the behaviour or the behaviour is directed to a child.

As previously stated it remains to be seen whether the Queensland provision will follow this model exactly, or whether it will be adopted and altered.

What is clear is that the Queensland Government is taking a strong stance to criminalise this behaviour.  The approach will be more clearer when the government releases a draft provision. 

Do you need help?

If you are experiencing domestic violence, the victim of coercive control, or have been accused of coercive and controlling behaviour, you can contact Connolly Suthers Lawyers to assist you. 

Our Criminal Law team practice extensively in Domestic and Family Violence Law and can assist you in obtaining a Domestic Violence Order, responding to an application for Domestic Violence Order or Police Protection Notice, and representing you in relation to any criminal offence that may be DV related. 

If you need any further information or assistance please contact

  • DVCONNECT MENSLINE - 1800 600 636
  • DV CONNECT WOMENSLINE - 1800 811 811
  • Lifeline- 131 11 14

[1] Hannah Clarke Inquest hears of killer's appalling behaviour over years, ABC News, Rory Callinan, posted 26 March 2022, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-03-26/qld-hannah-clarke-inquest-murder-domestic-violence/100932094

[2] Queensland Government response to Womens Safety and Justice Taskforce reccomendations, Department of Justice and Attorney General, published 11 May 2022, https://www.justice.qld.gov.au/initiatives/queensland-government-response-womens-safety-justice-taskforce-recommendations

[3] Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012, section 8

[4] Criminalising Coercive Control, Lecture by Kristy Bell (Partner Howden Saggars Lawyers) at Legalwise Criminal Law Symposium 2022

[5] Ibid