Skip to main content

Law update: Coercive Control Amendments

By Mathai Joshi

In 2022 we spoke about the intention of the Queensland Government to introduce a raft of new changes to domestic violence laws in Queensland. On 11 October 2022, the proposed laws were introduced into parliament, and on 6 March 2024, the Queensland Parliament passed these new laws.
In this series, we will highlight some of the most significant changes to the laws in Queensland.

The Criminal Law (Coercive Control and Affirmative Consent) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2023 was enacted by the Government 6 March 2024. The significance of these amendments was to tackle the serious ongoing rise of domestic violence offences and focusing specifically on coercive control.

These legislative changes began with the Government passing the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act (Combating Coercive Control) and other Legislation Amendment Bill. This legislation laid the foundation for what coercive control really is, and more importantly, it set up the basis for a stand alone criminal charge for coercive control.

The legislative changes came about after recommendations by the Queensland Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce. These new laws were driven by the tragic deaths of Hannah Clark and her children and have been referred to as ‘Hannah’s Law.

These laws have been passed by Parliament, and assent has been provided, however, a date has to be fixed when these laws come into play.

What these new laws mean?

The effect of these amendments is broad in nature, and largely affects a number of pieces of legislation including:-

  1. The Bail Act 1980
  2. The Criminal Code
  3. The Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012
  4. The Domestic and Family Violence Protection Regulations 2023
  5. The Evidence Act 1977
  6. The Evidence Regulation 2017
  7. The Justices Act 1866
  8. The Penalties and Sentences Act 1992
  9. The Youth Justice Act 1992
  10. The Recording of evidence regulations 2018

These changes are to have an immediate and significant impact within Queensland.

The most significant of these changes is the creation of a standalone criminal offence of Coercive Control. Queensland is only the second state in Australia that has legislated this offence, following New South Wales.

Coercive Control – New Criminal Offence

Coercive Control is a form of domestic violence that involves a repeated pattern of behaviour, that, over time, has the cumulative effect of denying a person their personal autonomy and independence. It is a form of behaviour that seeks to create an environment where the victim is in constant fear, isolation, intimidation, and humiliation.

Section 334A defines this behaviour broadly, and the legislative definition is prescribed in the offence under Section 334C of the Criminal Code.

It is relevant to note that the new amendments cross-reference the definitions of domestic violence from the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act, namely under Section 334B of the Criminal Code.

Section 334C of the Criminal Code provides that a person who is an adult commits an offence (a coercive control offence) if:-

  1. The person is in a domestic relationship with another person and;
  2. The person engages in a course of conduct against the other person that consists of domestic violence occurring on more than one (1) occasion and;
  3. The person intends the course of conduct to coerce or control the other person and;
  4. The course of conduct would, in all the circumstances be reasonably likely to causer the other person harm
What must be proven?

For the Prosecution to prove that a person has committed this offence they must prove beyond reasonable doubt that:-

  1. That the defendant and complainant are in a domestic relationship
  2. That in the context of that relationship, the defendant engaged in a course of conduct against the complainant that was domestic violence
    1. Conduct that is domestic violence is defined under section 344B of the Criminal Code
  3. That the defendant intended the course of conduct to control or coerce the complainant.
  4. That the course of conduct by the defendant would be reasonably likely to cause the complainant harm.
    1. Reasonably likely in all the circumstances is the test.

An offence under this section is a crime, and the maximum penalty for this offence is 14 years imprisonment.

The prosecution does not have to prove that the person intended each act of domestic violence that would constitute coercive control. The prosecution does not have to prove the particulars of any act of domestic violence, and a jury does not have to be satisfied with the particulars of any specific act of domestic violence.

Defences available

If you are charged with an offence of coercive control, it is a defence for a person to prove that the course of conduct was reasonable in the context of the relationship between the person and the complainant as a whole.

This means that there is an obligation on the defendant to prove that the conduct was reasonable in the context of the relationship. The defendant will bear the onus of proof to show to the Court or a Jury that the behaviour was reasonable.

It is not a defence if the person believed that any single act of domestic violence that formed part of the course of conduct for coercive control, when considered in isolation, was reasonable in the context of the relationship as a whole.

Effectively what this section is saying is that whether or not the defendant intended or believed that the behaviour was in isolation, coercive or not, is immaterial and not a defence to the offence.

Restraining Orders

Section 334E of the Criminal Code now allows a Court to consider making a restraining order.

The order is separate from a Domestic Violence Protection Order (DVO), and the distinguishing feature is that while a DVO can only be made in circumstances where a relevant relationship exists, a restraining order is a separate order made by a court preventing a person from acting in a certain way towards another person.

The new provision under Section 334E allows a Court to make a restraining order, regardless of whether a person is found guilty or not guilty, or whether the persecution of the matter ends in another way (such as a summary dismissal or withdrawal of the charge).

The Magistrate or Judge may consider whether or not to make a restraining order. This effectively means that it is the discretion of the Court as to whether or not a restraining order should be made.

The application for an order can be made by either the Crown (Prosecution), an interested party, or the Judge and Magistrates own initiative.

The Court would take into account any relevant evidence in the hearing and would otherwise consider whether or not it is desirable that they make the order. If the Court makes a restraining order, it is important to note the following:-

  1. The application for a restraining order is not a criminal proceeding, it is a civil proceeding.
  2. If the restraining order is made it takes effect on the day the order is made, until a specified date.
  3. If a date is not specified, the order is deemed to operate for 5 years after the day the order is made.
  4. The order continues in force for 5 years, it can operate for less than 5 years only if the Court is satisfied of the safety of the person is not compromised
  5. The restraining order can be revoked at any time.

While it is not a criminal offence for a restraining order to be made against a person, it is important to note that contravening or breaching the order is a criminal offence.

The maximum penalty for knowingly contravening a restraining order is 120 penalty units or 3 years imprisonment. If you have been convicted of a domestic violence offence within 5 years, then you can be liable for a fine of 240 penalty units or imprisonment for 5 years.

How can we help you?

Domestic Violence offences have significant consequences for individuals. What is important to be aware of is not just the simple penalty for these offences but also the secondary effects a conviction for these types of offences can include.

For example, offences of this nature can have a bearing on whether or not a blue card holder will have to face show cause proceedings or if a revocation of a blue card can be made by the department.

If you are a professional who requires membership in a governing body, such as the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Authority, you may have an obligation to report being charged with or convicted of an offence under these proceedings.

It is incredibly important to obtain legal advice if you are charged with any domestic violence offence, or if you are approached by the Police for an application for a domestic violence order.

If you are experiencing domestic violence, being subject to 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 a 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:
Lifeline- 131 11 14