What are the coercive control laws in New South Wales?

Coercive control law reform in NSW

On November 16, 2022, the New South Wales Parliament passed laws to create a stand-alone offence of coercive control, making NSW the first Australian state to do so. Coercive control is a form of domestic abuse in which a person engages in patterns of behaviour that infringe on the autonomy and independence of an intimate partner. It is a serious charge and anyone accused of coercive control should speak with our crime team. The laws will not take effect until 2024. We will update this article when the laws are enlivened.

What do the new coercive control laws mean?

The Coercive Control Bill will amend the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) by inserting a new section titled ‘Abusive behaviour towards current or former intimate partners’. This will create an indictable offence with a maximum penalty of seven years imprisonment if breached. The offence requires the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt that;

  1. The accused engages in abusive behaviour;
  2. The accused and the other person are intimate partners;
  3. The accused intends their course of conduct to cause physical or mental harm to the other person or is reckless as to this result, and;
  4. A reasonable person would consider the conduct likely to cause a fear of violence against the other person or adversely affects their capacity to engage in their ordinary day-to-day activities.

The laws define ‘abusive behaviour’ as violence, threats, or intimidation as well as coercion or control of another person. The Bill sets out examples of the types of behaviour intended to be captured. These include stalking, monitoring a person’s movements or communications, controlling a person’s personal, social or financial autonomy, or isolating the other person from friends, family or cultural connections. The requirements of the offence of coercive control mean a a person alleged to have engaged in abusive behaviour may be alleged to have committed physical violence but the prosecution must, nevertheless, show a continuous pattern of psychological abuse that infringes on the other person’s liberty.

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Potential Issues

Despite the reforms being passed, many were unsure about the Bill in its drafted form, citing concerns of ineffectiveness and a narrow scope. One potential issue of the coercive control reforms is that it will be too difficult for prosecutors to prove an offence has occurred against a complainant, including showing an alleged abuser intends to engage in coercive or controlling behaviours, regardless of the amount of harm they are said to have inflicted. Further, the accused’s behaviour must be objectively abusive.

Once active, the laws will undergo a two-year implementation period in which all relevant stakeholders will be educated on the meaning of coercive control and how the justice system will respond to it. The offence will start being enforced in 2024.

Contact our criminal lawyers by emailing enquiries@dowsonturco.com.au or telephoning 02 8000 7300.