A pilot law to tackle and prevent domestic abuse has launched today. The law is being piloted following the death of Clare Wood at the hands of her partner George Appleton in 2009.
Clare attempted to end her relationship with Appleton in October 2008 only to be subjected to 4 months of harrassment and abuse resulting in her death. Police visited her home and fitted a panic button following complaints of domestic violence but the actions of the police were insufficient to save Clare from Appleton, a man with a history of previous domestic violence.
Following her death, a campaign ensued to introduce an improvement in the way domestic abuse is managed; the Government proposed Clare’s Law, enabling police to disclose information to partners of those who have a history of domestic abuse.
Clare’s Law consists of two components. The first component is triggered by an enquiry from a member of the public and is termed ‘The Right to Ask’. The second component, ‘The Right to Know’ allows police to disclose information in order to protect a potential victim. It is hoped the disclosure of information regarding an individual’s previous violence towards partners will improve the safety of people in a relationship with a known previous offender. Refuge, one of the UK’s longest running domestic violence charities has criticised the proposed disclosure laws as ‘reactive rather than proactive’.
What are the potential limitations?
Whilst the idea of being able to enquire with the police sounds extremely positive in theory, I can foresee a number of immediate issues which may prevent Clare’s Law from working successfully in practice:
- If an individual has no indication that their partner has a previous violent history, in my opinion, the likelihood of them making an enquiry with the police before an incident occurs is minimal. The proposal that the new legislation will enable an individual to make an informed choice on whether to continue in a relationship with someone who has a history of violence towards a partner is therefore, in my view, inplausible.
- Victims of domestic abuse are afraid to approach the police for fear of retaliation by the perpetrator. The success of this component, in my view, is dependent on the victim reporting abuse to the police. Currently, this figure lies at less than 40%. I am not convinced the introduction of this component of Clare’s Law will make any significant difference to these figures. If one incident of domestic abuse has occurred within the relationship then that fear of retaliation will already exist; yet without that incident the individual is unlikely to see the need to make the enquiry.
- I cannot see how the police will be able to staff the amount of potential enquiries and manage the disclosure system. Will police also manage whom they disclose such information to? Potentially, such information could be dangerous if in the wrong hands.
Implications on sentencing:
If, when provided with this information, a person decides to stay with their partner, what will the implications be should that person later be assaulted by their partner?
- How will that person be judged for staying with someone known to have a history of domestic violence?
- Will the sanctions imposed by the court be influenced and possibly reduced as a result of the decision to stay?
Having worked closely with both perpetrators and victims of domestic violence, these are my initial concerns in relation to this pilot scheme. I am however hopeful, that possessing such information will enable men and women to be sufficiently informed, more motivated and better supported to leave an abusive relationship sooner than they would without this disclosure. Only time will tell if this is to be the case.
The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS) is to be piloted over a twelve month period starting this week in Gwent and Wiltshire, and then Nottingham and Greater Manchester in the Autumn.
I’d really like to hear your views on Clare’s Law and whether you think this will work effectively in the UK.