Amid much media fanfare, and timed to coincide with International Women’s Day, the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, better known as ‘Clare’s Law’ was introduced across England and Wales on Saturday. The scheme enables people to find out from the police whether their partner has a history of domestic violence.
The news was, of course, welcomed by the family of Clare Wood, after whom the ‘law’ was named. Clare was murdered by her former boyfriend George Appleton, in 2009. Appleton had a record of violence against women and Clare’s father is convinced that she would still be alive had she known the full extent of Appleton’s previous behaviour.
The introduction of Clare’s Law has also been generally welcomed elsewhere. Assistant Chief Constable Louisa Rolfe is the national lead for domestic abuse in the Association of Chief Police Officers. She says that it will give police officers more options when tackling domestic violence. The Home Office has said that the pilots of the scheme in Greater Manchester, Gwent, Nottinghamshire and Wiltshire since September 2012 had provided more than 100 people with “potentially life-saving information”.
But there are others who have their doubts about the scheme, and I am one of them, as I mentioned in this post on the 29th Novembe. I do hope and expect that the scheme may help some people, and that of course is a good thing, but I’m not sure that it will really make much difference to the problem of domestic violence generally, and I fear that in some cases it may actually make things worse.
As I mentioned, how many people at the start of a new relationship with someone they are obviously fond of are going to stop and think: “Oh, I’ll just check with the police to see if they’ve ever been convicted of an offence involving domestic violence”? They are only likely to check if they have suspicions, and if they have suspicions then they are likely to have already decided to ‘break it off’.
And if they don’t break it off, a negative check may give them a false sense of security, and encourage them to carry on with the relationship, rather than rely upon their ‘gut’ feelings. After all, many of the perpetrators of domestic violence are never known to the authorities.
But it goes further than that. What do you do if the check comes back positive? Do you confront your partner about it, or do you simply leave them?
Obviously, confronting someone with a propensity towards violence is a very risky thing to do. Even if the partner does not react violently, they may provide plausible ‘excuses’ for their previous violence, perhaps even denying that it happened at all. Again, that may provide the potential victim with a false sense of security.
Even leaving can be fraught with dangers – if the partner gets wind of it they may use force to try to stop you leaving. A positive check may cause the potential victim to want to leave immediately, but leaving safely may require a little planning. Even after you have left, you are not necessarily safe – much domestic violence occurs after the parties have separated. What if you have nowhere safe to go? This is a particular problem at a time when we hear stories of women’s refuges having to close due to budget cuts.
In short, I don’t think that Clare’s Law will have much effect, and it will be essential that those who do use it receive proper advice.