Controlling or Coercive Behaviour and Human Rights: Widening the Ambit of Harm

Marilyn McMahon4, Paul McGorrery4
4Deakin University

Recent reforms to domestic violence laws in England, Wales and Scotland have criminalised non-physical forms of abuse (such as psychological and financial abuse). These laws have been justified, at least in part, by reference to the human rights of victims. They reflect an increasing tendency to view domestic violence within the framework of human rights abuse. This paper explores the implications of this perspective, with particular attention being given to the effect of non-physical abuse on victims’ autonomy, and its consequently unique capacity to undermine a variety of human rights. In doing so, this paper evaluates how the criminal law generally engages with human rights and, more specifically, how the offences of controlling or coercive behaviour (England and Wales) and domestic abuse (Scotland) can protect victims of domestic violence from having their rights abused by expanding the ambit of harms recognised by the criminal law.


Dr Marilyn MacMahon is an Associate Professor at Deakin University School of Law. Her research interests are in the areas of criminal law, criminal procedure, criminal responsibility and evidence. She is currently involved in a research project exploring how women who are victims of domestic violence are constructed in legal proceedings.


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