Coercive and controlling behaviour – How should the courts be dealing with this?

Football manager and former Manchester United player, Ryan Giggs, has recently been charged with coercive and controlling behaviour. Giggs denies the allegations and has pleaded not guilty. Coercive and controlling behaviour arises in many family law cases and with there being no legal definition, this is often, an ambiguous area of law. In recent cases, judges have investigated the current position of the law dealing with this type of abuse and how it applies specifically in private family law proceedings.

At present in the family courts when allegations, including coercive and controlling behaviour, have been raised parties are required to complete a ‘Scott Schedule’. A Scott Schedule will set out the allegations raised by the party and refer to any evidence that is to be relied upon in support. This schedule is brief and narrowly outlines the allegations, which is often very difficult to do in cases where there has been coercive and controlling behaviour. The importance of this schedule cannot be understated as it the basis for the judge in a Fact-Finding Hearing when considering the allegations of abuse. Coercive and controlling behaviour is, in nature, challenging to identify and can be very complex, which therefore begs the question – do Scott Schedules serve their purpose where coercive and controlling behaviour has been alleged?

This question has recently been debated in the High Court case of F v M [2021] EWFC where Mr Justice Hayden acknowledged the difficulty that clients face specifically in evidencing coercive and controlling behaviour. Mr Justice Hayden referred to the potential issues that arise when evidencing this form of abuse by means of a Scott Schedule. Although matters should be dealt with efficiently (and it can be argued a Scott Schedule does this) for many victims of coercive and controlling behaviour itemising the individual instances of behaviour can be seen to be counterproductive. It can be seen to trivialise what is a long-standing pattern of abuse.  As a Scott Schedule narrows down the allegations which often limits the number of allegations which can pleaded it has been suggested that a Scott Schedule can often be pernicious in relation to coercive and controlling behaviour.

Mr Justice Hayden’s points regarding the complexities of presenting coercive and controlling behaviour were recently agreed by the Court of Appeal. Although these cases have not formally changed the law on domestic abuse allegations being pleaded to the courts, it appears that the courts are looking at the wider landscape. These cases seem to suggest that a holistic approach should be taken where there are allegations of controlling and coercive behaviour.

Lux Family Law understand that every case is individual and unique. This seeming shift towards a fairer approach in pleading coercive and controlling behaviour in family proceedings is welcomed by practitioners in the field. If you require advice on protective measures, domestic abuse or private children matters, please contact our office on 02920 197 203.

If you are in a relationship involving coercive and controlling behaviours – help and support is available.

  • National Domestic Violence Helpline – 0808 2000 247
  • Samaritans (24/7 service) – 116 123
  • The Men’s Advice Line, for male domestic abuse survivors – 0808 801 0327
  • National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0800 999 5428