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F v M [2021] EWFC 4

Mr Justice Hayden’s detailed judgment, making extensive findings of coercive and controlling behaviour, underlines the need for the court to assess a pattern or series of acts cumulatively.

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Background


The need for fact-finding arose in respect of F's application for contact with two children, Y aged six and S, three, who live with their mother, M. The case was transferred to the High Court by the Court of Appeal, which had overturned a case management decision not to accept similar fact evidence. (Re R-P (Children) (Domestic abuse: similar fact evidence) [2020] EWCA Civ 1088)

The two families

In accordance with the Court of Appeal's decision, the court heard not only about the father's treatment of M, but also about his subsequent relationship with J, a woman in her 40s with two children. While M had eventually been able to extricate herself fully from F, J remained under his thrall. The parents of both women and J's former husband gave crucial evidence about the disturbing extent and impact of F's controlling behaviour.

The court's approach

In order to understand the scope and ambit of alleged controlling and coercive behaviour it is necessary to understand that both coercion and control involve a range of acts; individual acts must be evaluated "in the context of the wider forensic landscape".

Findings

There were marked similarities in the way each of the women was systematically isolated from study/work, friends, colleagues and family. The entire judgment must be read to appreciate the scale and nature of F's coercive and controlling behaviour.

From the start of his relationship with M in 2013, F ensured that she was isolated from friends and family. An early, unplanned, pregnancy was not welcomed by her and when she spent some time with her parents F involved the police, alleging that they were holding her against her will, claiming they wanted to end the relationship as they were Hindu and he Moslem; he raised a risk of honour-based violence. Each time M's parents raised what were valid concerns about her welfare, F characterised this as harassment driven by prejudice and HBV, which unfortunately was often accepted by police. Accordingly, they were not as sceptical about F as they might have been.

He persuaded her to leave university. During the course of the relationship he ensured that they moved frequently, with M's parents often unaware of their whereabouts. Sometimes he allowed minimal access to their daughter and grandchild provided they gave him money. His treatment of them is described as gratuitous emotional torture.

F controlled M physically, emotionally, psychologically and financially. He also raped her, probably on more than one occasion. For nearly four years M "was subjected to a brutalising, dehumanising regime, by which F subjugated her and was profoundly corrosive of her autonomy." (§64)

She eventually broke free in September 2017, by which time she was pregnant with S. She made a complaint of rape, but the police did not pursue a prosecution. Subsequently the police interviewed her when considering a possible charge against F of controlling or coercive behaviour, but no charges were brought.

F then formed a relationship with J, who left her job, home and friends and became estranged from her parents. Her children were uprooted from all they knew, including contact with their father T, and disappeared without trace. Eventually the children were located in inadequate circumstances; a court transferred them to T's care having found that J had lost sight of their welfare interests. They currently have no contact with J.

Hayden J found F to be "a profoundly dangerous young man, dangerous to women he perceives to be vulnerable and dangerous to children."

Consideration of the available guidance


Given the lack of reported cases dealing with this issue, Hayden J goes on to consider the definitions in FPR 2010 PD12J and s76 Serious Crime Act 2015.

He comments that "a tight, overly formulaic analysis may ultimately obfuscate rather than illuminate the behaviour" (§108) and the overall assessment of the evidence is the same in any other case. Recognition of the "insidious scope and manner of this particular type of domestic abuse" is essential; the key is to recognise that "the significance of individual acts may only be understood within the context of wider behaviour." (§109)

Scott Schedules


While declining to give guidance on the use of such schedules in family cases generally, the judge commented that such an insidious type of abuse may not be captured by this formulaic approach to marshalling the evidence and honing the allegations. He considered that where coercive and/or controlling behaviour is alleged, Scott Schedules are ineffective and frequently unsuitable.

Case Summary by Gill Honeyman, Barrister, Coram Chambers

For full case please see BAILII