On 25th November 2013 it was announced that ‘Clare’s Law’ would be implemented throughout England and Wales (Scotland, of course, having different laws). This follows a pilot scheme in Manchester, Wiltshire and West Mercia.
What is it?
It was introduced following the murder of Clare Wood in February 2009. The main suspect was George Appleton, her then boyfriend, who killed himself shortly afterwards.
It later transpired that Mr Appleton had a history of domestic violence and had been harassing and threatening violence towards Ms Wood prior to her murder.
This lead to calls for women to be warned about potentially abuse and violent partners. As stated in the pilot :
“Under the scheme women will have the right to ask the police whether a new or existing partner has a violent past. If police checks show that a person may be at risk of domestic violence from their partner, the police will consider disclosing the information.
The pilot will also look at how the police can proactively release information to protect a person from domestic violence where it is lawful, necessary and proportionate to do so”
The scheme will now be implemented in all police forces shortly.
How does it work?
The legal basis is in s24 Crime and Security Act 2010. This creates a ‘Domestic Violence Protection Order’ that can be issued by a high ranking police officer if the officer has ‘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‘.
There is then a hearing in the Magistrates’ Court within 48 hours to determine whether it was properly issued.
The usual conditions would be to kick the suspended offender out of his (perpetrators of domestic violence are mostly men) home and preventing him from contacting the other person for a period of time between 14 and 28 days.
It is a civil (not criminal) matter if the order is breached.
Will it work?
The Government have published the results of the pilot. This is stated as being a success, although there is an element of caution about the findings.
There are legitimate concerns. Firstly, there is a concern about the privacy implications of disclosures of this sort. Secondly, there are doubts as to whether and how people will act upon disclosures (see here for one article giving a good critique). Thirdly, it may lull people into a false sense of security that a negative check is a clean bill of health.
I don’t know where the figure came from, but I have often heard it said that 20% of PNC (Police National Computer) checks are wrong in one way or another. I can certainly believe it. I remember one case that I dealt with where the defendant was up for a low level financial crime. His PNC showed ‘no trace’ – in other words, no indication that there was any criminal history.
This overlooked the fact that he had been convicted of beheading a former romantic partner. That’s one (albeit an extreme) example of how the police information is not always accurate.
My own personal concern about this is that it is a gimmick that is a cheap way of looking like you’re tackling the problem, rather than actually doing anything about it.
Measures such as greater funding for refuges, social workers to provide support, better benefits (particularly for victims with children), proper legal aid so victims have proper access to family and welfare law advice, more funding for counselling/anger management for perpetrators, etc etc would, in my view, be far more effective in putting an end to domestic abuse.
This however costs money – far easier to have some kind of new ‘order’ (Governments love having more powers) than actually trying to tackle the problem. Clare’s Law is not, to my mind, a measure that shows that the government is serious about ending domestic violence, but one that shows that they are keen to be looking like they’re doing something.