Controlling a partner’s social media account or surveilling them through mobile phone tracking apps could see domestic abusers jailed for up to five years under new legislation that comes into force today.

The Crown Prosecution Service can, for the first time, prosecute specific offences of domestic abuse if there is evidence of repeated, continuous, controlling or coercive behaviour.

Director of public prosecutions Alison Saunders (pictured) said controlling or coercive behaviour can ‘limit’ victims’ basic human rights such as their freedom of movement and independence.

‘This behaviour can be incredibly harmful in an abusive relationship where one person holds more power than the other, even if on the face of it this behaviour might seem playful, innocuous or loving,’ she said.

Controlling or coercive behaviour can cause someone either to fear that violence will be used against them on at least two occasions, or serious alarm or distress which has a substantial effect on their usual day-to-day activities.

Abusive behaviour can include:

  • Stopping or changing the way someone socialises
  • Limiting access to family, friends and finances
  • Monitoring a person via online communication tools such as tracking apps on mobile phones
  • Repeatedly putting them down such as telling them they are worthless
  • Humiliating and embarrassing the victim

Saunders said police and prosecutors are being trained to recognise patterns of abusive behaviour which can be regarded as criminal abuse. When reviewing cases, prosecutors will be trained to look at the overall effect the controlling and/or coercive behaviour had on the victim.

Evidence can include copies of emails, GPS tracking devices installed on mobile phones, bank records, and witness statements from family and friends.

‘The consideration of the cumulative impact of controlling or coercive behaviour, and the pattern of behaviour within the context of the relationship is crucial,’ the CPS said in today’s announcement.

Prosecutors will receive CPS legal guidance and specialist training on the new legislation. The CPS said this would form part of its ‘extensive’ work on ‘wider’ domestic abuse, including a charging advice checklist for police and prosecutors, and an evidence-gathering checklist for police officers on the ground.