Clare’s Law: I take it all back (well, some of it)

Family|January 26th 2015

Last March I wrote a post here about the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, better known as ‘Clare’s Law’, under which people may find out from the police whether their partner has a history of domestic violence. In the post, I asked whether the scheme would actually make much difference. Whilst hoping it would help some people, I expressed reservations about the scheme and concluded that I did not think it would have much effect.

It seems that I may have been proved wrong. Figures obtained by the Press Association under Freedom of Information requests show that since the scheme came into force in England and Wales last March there have been at least 3,760 applications so far, resulting in 1,335 disclosures. In other words, at least 1,335 people have been informed that their partner has a history of domestic violence.

So, the scheme is being used, and a large number of people have been given information which may ultimately mean that they do not become victims of domestic violence.

All well and good, but I do still have reservations about the scheme.

The first one is: what do these people do with the information? Do they all immediately leave their partners, or do they try to ‘work through the problem’, perhaps discussing the issue? Either way, they will be in a situation of great risk.

Leaving an abuser is not necessarily as easy as it may sound. They may well react violently to the relationship being ended, and may try to follow their victim, wherever they try to go.

Staying with the abuser is obviously even more risky: they may well take exception to their violent past being raised, possibly denying that it ever happened. The whole issue of domestic violence is often a matter of control, and if the abuser feels that their partner is trying to wrest control from them they may again react violently.

Clearly, anyone who receives information about their partner’s history of domestic violence will need proper help and assistance. I suspect, however, that the level of such help and assistance will vary from one area to the next.

Then there is the problem of all those applications that did not result in a disclosure. Obviously, anyone who makes an application must have some suspicions or concerns about their partner’s behaviour. As I said in my previous post, a negative result may lead to a false sense of security (many abusers will not have police records anyway). Perhaps that person’s ‘gut feeling’ which led them to make the application was right. If they had followed that gut feeling they may have ended the relationship, but the negative result may make them feel confident that they can stay.

In my previous post I also expressed doubts as to how many people at the start of a new relationship with someone that they are obviously fond of were going to stop and check if that person has a history of domestic violence. Obviously, that doubt still applies, although the figures suggest that the scheme is taking off and that the number of people who are aware of it is increasing.

That, however, leads to another problem. The scheme does not just enable people to apply for information; it also enables the police to warn potential victims who do not apply, under the so-called “right to know”. If this becomes common knowledge, will people simply rely upon the police letting them know if their partner has a history of domestic violence, without bothering to check themselves? Obviously, the police may not do so – they may well be unaware of the abuser’s new relationship in any event.

It seems that Clare’s Law is here to stay, and if it stops just one person from becoming a victim of domestic violence, then that is of course a good thing. It does, however, have its limitations, and those must be understood by anyone using it or seeking to rely upon it.

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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  1. Andrew says:

    I have said it before and I will say it again. The subject of the enquiry should be told, before any information is given, and for three reasons.

    1. The information proposed to be given out could refer to the wrong John Smith.
    2. He should have the chance to say “She is lying, we are not contemplating setting up together, she is a busybody/an ex with a grievance/a rival at work”.
    3. Above all, he should have the chance to say “If that is how much faith you have in me, we are through”. There is something horrible about two people acting as if they loved and trusted each other while one of them is checking the other’s police record.

    A divorced or estranged father should be entitled (whether he has p.r. or not) to make the same enquiries about the mother’s new partner. And if anything nasty shows up he as well as the mother should be told. Yes, I know that right could be used in a controlling way, but it might (whatever the father’s motives) save a child from being in a household with an abuser.

    And finally only convictions, pending prosecutions, and injunctions confirmed after a full hearing at which both parties were heard should be disclosed (to any enquirer). Not acquittals, no-further-actions, or ex parte orders.

    If any of this is wrong I wish somebody would say why.

  2. Stitchedup says:

    I agree with Andrew… the subject of the enquiry MUST be told… I struggle to see how this law is compatible with the spirit of the rehabilitation of offenders act or indeed the data protection act. The fact is John, where ex-parte orders are concerned, and indeed breaches of ex-parte orders, there is often no proof whatsoever there’s actually been any abuse or violence. Like Andrew, I have made this point before, why does a new partner need to know that you had a disagreement with the ex about the selling price of the former family home or perhaps that you sent a text advising the ex you going to be late for a contact hand-over????
    Where’s the “risk” in that exactly?????????

  3. S says:

    My ex beat me and raped me for 18 years even tho I have medical reports and he has previous convictions nothing is ever done as the cps no have relevant legislation to get a conviction.
    Clare’s law is pointless. Cps need need to take cases more seriously and government needs to back this. Theresa May needs to stop and take action rather than blowing hot air about the subject of domestic abuse. It is the only crime in UK still rising.
    Oh and not all victims can get legal aid, how is that justice?! Already venerable and injured and now have to defend your self to get divorce. Claire’s law does not help victims just creates a smoke screen and as Andrew says must have reasons for requesting the information could just further inflate the relationship!

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