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15 March 2024

Hannah’s Law – Qld criminalises coercive control

Hannah's Law, the criminalisation of coercive control in Queensland, was passed by State Parliament last week. The new laws are expected to come into effect later this year. In this video, special counsel Leeann Murphy talks about the significance of the new coercive control laws and their potential impact for victims.
Hannah’s Law, the criminalisation of coercive control in Queensland, was passed by State Parliament last week. The new laws are expected to come into effect later this year. In this video, special counsel Leeann Murphy talks about the significance of the new coercive control laws and their potential impact for victims.

Video transcript

Hello. I’m Leeann Murphy. I’m a special counsel in the family law team at Cooper Grace Ward Lawyers. Today, I’m going to share some news about Hannah’s Law, the criminalisation of coercive control in Queensland.

Coercive control

Coercive control is a form of abuse that extends beyond physical violence. It involves patterns of behaviour intended to control and dominate an intimate partner. Recognising the severity of this issue, several jurisdictions have enacted legislation to criminalise coercive control. Queensland is the latest state to criminalise coercive control. The release of a series of fact sheets by the Attorney General’s Department coincides with the new Queensland laws. The fact sheets are designed to help Australians understand the features of coercive control and it provides a number of resources for people to access in order to get assistance.

Criminalising coercive control passed – Hannah’s Law

On 6 March 2024, in Queensland, a landmark moment occurred when legislation criminalising coercive control was passed. The Queensland Government’s commitment to criminalising coercive control followed the tragic death of Hannah Clarke and her children at the hands of her ex-partner. Referred to as Hannah’s Law, the new legislation criminalises coercive control and incorporates both physical and non-physical forms of domestic and family violence. This is one of the many steps that has been undertaken by the Queensland Government in recent years to address domestic violence in our community. Queensland legislation defines coercive control as a pattern of abuse designed to hurt, intimidate and scare an intimate partner. It applies to both current and former relationships, and if found guilty, a perpetrator could face up to 14 years imprisonment.

Key aspects of the legislation

There are some key aspects to the legislation that I wish to share with you. The offense requires patterned behaviour. Coercive control is recognised as a repeated pattern of abusive behaviours. These behaviours are used by perpetrators to intimidate and control their intimate partners. It includes both non-physical and physical forms of abuse. Non-physical forms of coercive control include emotional abuse and financial control. It can also include isolation, intimidation and cyberstalking. The legislation broadens the definition of family and domestic violence and includes behaviour over the entirety of the relationship. It will be treated as a distinct criminal offense. This legislation is in response to recommendations by the Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce. While coercive control can occur in a number of different relationships, this legislation focuses on intimate relationships. This decision stems from research linking coercive control to homicide. Shockingly, this study indicated that in 97% of partner homicides, the victim also experienced coercive and controlling behaviour prior to their deaths.

Documentation and evidence

Coercive control is a complex issue and establishing a pattern of behaviour that constitutes coercive control requires certain evidence. There are certain types of evidence that are going to be relevant in relation to these proceedings. Communication records are likely to be extremely relevant. Text messages, emails and other written communication can provide crucial evidence in these proceedings. This evidence may record threats, intimidation and behaviour intended to control the victim. Witness testimonies may be available and may be useful in these proceedings. Statements from witnesses such as friends, families and colleagues may corroborate the victim’s evidence in relation to coercive control. Witnesses may have observed the controlling or may have observed the responses by the victim. Documentation of incidents may be relevant. Incident logs or diaries kept by the victim may be relevant to demonstrate a pattern of abuse. These records should record specific instances of coercive control. Expert opinions can be compelling. Psychologists, social workers or other experts can provide evidence of the dynamic of coercive control. Their assessments may strengthen the case by explaining the impact of coercive control upon the victim. The victim’s own account is essential. The victim can describe the impact of coercive control on their wellbeing and their feelings of dependency. It is also necessary to provide evidence of the overall context of the relationship. Coercive control often involves actions over time, impacting the victim’s feeling of autonomy and freedom. Queensland’s coercive control laws will come into effect in the coming months. It is essential to recognise that this is just the beginning. The legislation will be reviewed in 2026 and the Parliament will consider whether it should extend to a number of different relationships. By criminalising coercive control, Queensland has taken important steps towards helping victims and holding perpetrators accountable.

Remember, if you or someone you know is experiencing coercive control, seek help. If you require legal advice about coercive control, contact us.

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This publication is for information only and is not legal advice. You should obtain advice that is specific to your circumstances and not rely on this publication as legal advice. If there are any issues you would like us to advise you on arising from this publication, please let us know.

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Leeann Murphy
Special Counsel

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