The Queensland Parliament has passed a law to broaden the definition of domestic and family violence. The definition will now include behaviour that occurs over time and considers behaviour in the context of the whole relationship. Queensland Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman says it means the government is now a step closer to criminalising ‘coercive control’, which it plans to do later this year.
Coercive control refers to a pattern of abusive behaviour which denies the victim-survivor autonomy and independence over time. These behaviours are a common indicator of intimate partner homicide and other forms of criminal domestic and family violence. However, coercive control itself is not criminalised in most jurisdictions. NSW became the first jurisdiction to formally do so last year, although Tasmania criminalises some forms of economic and emotional abuse.
Queensland will introduce a standalone criminal offence for coercive control later this year. This week’s legal changes are intended to lay the foundation for that offence by broadening the legal definition of family violence. As well as including behaviours over time (allowing recognition of a pattern of controlling behaviour), the changes strengthen the ability of courts to consider a person’s previous domestic violence history, strengthen protections for domestic violence complainants, and allow juries to be directed by expert evidence on domestic violence.
Queensland’s series of legal changes to criminalise coercive control are collectively referred to as ‘Hannah’s Law’ after Hannah Clarke. Three years ago this week, Hannah Clarke and her three children were murdered by her estranged husband Rowan Baxter. Baxter had displayed coercive control behaviours throughout their marriage. Clarke’s parents Sue and Lloyd have been key campaigners for the new laws, which they believe could have saved her life. “We’ve fought for this because we know it will make a difference and it will prevent other families from having to go through an experience like ours… “We know from experience that the behaviour of perpetrators escalates over time. The Small Steps 4 Hannah Foundation strongly urges people to recognise the red flags in their family members, their friends, and even themselves and to seek help.”
Sue and Lloyd Clarke on the passing of new domestic violence legislation in Queensland