A pilot scheme to protect women from violent partners, known as Clare’s Law, is to be rolled out nationwide.
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, is expected to announce the full implementation of the law which forces police to disclose details of a person’s violent past if their partner requests it.
Home Secretary Theresa May said:
- Domestic abuse shatters lives – Clare’s Law provides people with the information they need to escape an abusive situation before it ends in tragedy.
- The national scheme will ensure that more people can make informed decisions about their relationship and escape if necessary.
- This is one of a raft of measures this government has introduced to keep women and girls safe. The systems in place are working better but sadly there are still too many cases where vulnerable people are let down. Today is an important step towards ensuring we do better by women like Clare Wood in the future.
It has been piloted in Greater Manchester, Wiltshire, Nottinghamshire and Gwent since September 2012.
Due to the success of the trials, which has seen 400 women given information, the scheme will be rolled out across England and Wales in March.
The legislation is named after Clare Wood, who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend George Appleton in 2009.
The mother-of-one, who had met Appleton on Facebook, was unaware of his horrific history of violence against women, including repeated harassment, threats and the kidnapping at knifepoint of one of his ex-girlfriends.
He strangled her and set her on fire before taking his own life in Salford, Greater Manchester.
Writing for the Sun Mrs May said that in the past there had been “considerable confusion” about how and when police are able to share information with members of the public.
She said: "Domestic abuse shatters lives - Clare's Law provides people with the information they need to escape an abusive situation before it ends in tragedy.
"The national scheme will ensure that more people can make informed decisions about their relationship and escape if necessary. This is an important step towards ensuring we do better by women like Clare Wood in the future."
Under the law, police can disclose previous convictions for violence and it they think the person is in danger, they will also offer help, in some cases rehousing the person.
Controversially, the scheme can also disclose previous allegations of abuse, even if they were not proven and did not lead to a conviction.
After the death of his daughter, Miss Woods’ father Michael Brown campaigned for a change in the law to protect women .
What Is Clare's Law?Every request under Clare’s Law is thoroughly checked by a panel made up of police, probation services and other agencies to ensure information is only passed on where it is lawful, proportionate and necessary. Trained police officers and advisers are then on hand to support victims through the difficult and sometimes dangerous transitional period.
The government also announced today the national extension of Domestic Violence Protection Orders from March 2014, which will provide further protection to vulnerable victims.
Crime Prevention Minister Norman Baker said:
- This is further proof of the government’s determination to combat a crime that claims two lives every week.
Clare’s Law, or the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, has two functions:
- Allowing police to ban abusers from contacting victims provides immediate protection in the aftermath of a domestic violence incident and breathing space to a vulnerable person while they consider their next steps. The pilot has shown this is a powerful intervention which can save lives.
- ‘right to ask’ - this enables someone to ask the police about a partner’s previous history of domestic violence or violent acts. A precedent for such a scheme exists with the Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme; and
- ‘right to know’ - police can proactively disclose information in prescribed circumstances.
- Where the police have reasonable grounds for believing that a perpetrator has used or threatened violence towards the victim and the victim is at risk of future violent behaviour, they can issue a Domestic Violence Protection Notice on the spot, provided they have the authorisation of an officer at Superintendent rank.
- The magistrates’ court must then hear the case for the Protection Order itself – which is the second step – within 48 hours of the Notice being made. If granted, the Order may last between a minimum of 14 days and a maximum of 28 days. This strikes the right balance between immediate protection for the victim and judicial oversight.
But is Clare’s Law just a sticking plaster on a far more serious problem?
The new legislation is supposed to protect victims of domestic violence, but will it really help? Olivia Goldhill interviews domestic violence charity NIA to find out how much Clare's Law can help prevent abuse.
Clare’s Law has been presented as a ground breaking piece of legislation to help protect victims of domestic violence from their partners.
But technically, the police have always had these powers, and domestic violence charity Refuge has criticised the plans as a waste of money.
Although Clare’s Law sounds like a good thing, the finer details raise questions of just how the legislation will help victims, and whether it will be of any substantive use.
Chief executive of domestic violence charity NIA, Karen Ingala Smith, is concerned that the law will place the onus of preventing violence on the victims, rather than the many agencies which are supposed to help.
Ingala Smith says: “We always hear ‘why didn’t she leave’, rather than 'why didn’t he stop using violence’, and I’m worried that once women are on record about knowing that a man they’re with has a history of violence, if something does then happen to them, it’s going to be a way for agencies to absolve looking at themselves and blaming themselves and place that at the woman’s door. I think that could very easily happen.”
Clare’s Law also carries a serious risk of giving women a false sense of security. Most instances of domestic violence are not reported to the police, and if a woman is told her partner has no record of abuse, she may be lulled into trusting her partner when any previous abuse has not been recorded by the authorities.
Ingala Smith says: “Women are often taught to doubt their own instinct when something isn’t right, and if they get a clear history from the police, I think that just makes them more likely to doubt themselves. But they may get a false negative, and that just means the police don’t have any history on record.”
She says that the biggest challenge for women in an abusive relationship is not acknowledging the violence – "if they’re worried that they need to call the police, it’s because something’s already gone wrong" – but leaving the relationship.
According to the Home Office, last year around 1.2 million women suffered domestic abuse and Mrs May said 88 women were killed by their partner. In the Clare’s Law pilot projects, around 400 women were given information. But Home Office figures show that less than 25 per cent of those who are abused by their partner report it to the police.
Ingala Smith says: “We need to make absolutely sure that she’s going to get support and if she decides she wants to leave, she’s able to do that safely. So many woman are killed at the point where they want to leave a man and they tell him. Unless we keep women safe around that time, we could actually be putting women at risk.”
Ultimately, Ingala Smith says that although Clare’s Law could work well alongside strong support for victims of domestic violence, the issue is too complicated for one simple policy to have any real impact.
“The government goes too quickly for things that look good and sound flashy, for quick fixes, and I think they need to step back and take a much broader way at looking at violence against women if they want to end it. This to me is just another sticking plaster response rather than going to the root of the problem,” she warns.
Clare’s Law is also more complicated to legally enact than it first sounds. As family law barrister Lucy Reed points out on her blog, police have always had the powers laid out in Clare’s Law.
The government’s 2011 Impact Assessment on Clare’s Law points out: “The police already have common law powers to disclose information relating to previous convictions or charges to the public where there is a pressing need for disclosure of the information concerning an individual’s history in order to prevent further crime. It therefore follows that currently:
• any member of the public can already ask the police for information about a third-party’s violent history;
• the police have discretion on whether to disclose the information if there is a need to prevent a further crime.”
Clare's Law works similarly, and police, probation services and other agencies will check every request to make sure it’s necessary - there’s no automatic disclosure of information.
As Lucy Reed says, this basic legislation failed to help Clare Woods.
She writes: “One of the key issues in the Clare Woods case was that the police had adopted an inconsistent and insufficiently risk aware approach to a pattern of behaviour reported by Clare Woods - the fact that the police already have these powers but don’t appear to exploit their potential seems to me to be highly relevant.”
Lucy also points out that the original Impact Assessment raised high take-up of the scheme as a possible risk. Responding to Clare’s Law will be time-intensive for police, and may limit their ability to respond to concerns in full.
The 2011 report states: “The likely impact is an increased burden on the police ... to find the time and resources required to service the Scheme. Although no targets are planned should the Scheme be introduced, the Scheme may inhibit the police’s ability to redeploy front-line resources. In addition, funding constraints may inhibit the capacity of [officials] to support victims.”
As Lucy writes: “Why aren’t the police using those powers already? What confidence can we have that the police will deploy the resources to make this work in the future?”
What about the men?
One of the most controversial aspects of Clare’s Law is that allegations of domestic violence will be made available to those who request it. This means in cases where allegations were not proven and did not lead to a conviction, people - largely men accused - could still be named.
The belief in innocence until proven guilty is a key tenant of our legal system, and for unproven claims to be released to the public raises concerns about the rights of the accused.
Lucy writes: “Any wrongly made findings could be revisited on the poor unfortunate every time s/he tries to make a fresh start.”
Some people, including the general Twitterati, have also raised concerns that Clare's Law does not make it clear that the victims, or potential victims, could be men: some cases of domestic violence involve women abusing men.
Clare's Law is for both sexes but perhaps the authorities should make that clearer.The idea behind Clare’s law - the right to view your partner’s criminal history - is catchy and memorable, and the Government wants to give the impression that its new legislation will help protect victims of domestic violence.
But victims of domestic violence require networks of support, and a subtle understanding of the dangers they face.
Police protection and assistance can be an important ally in the fight against an abusive partner, but Clare’s Law may not be the whole answer.