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Do we need a domestic abuse register?

A headline on BBC News before Easter read: “Mother calls for ‘domestic abuse register’”. The headline refers to the mother of Jayden Parkinson, the teenager who was brutally murdered by her former boyfriend, Ben Blakeley. Blakeley was found guilty of strangling 17 year old Jayden, who was expecting his child, and burying her body in his uncle’s grave. He is currently serving a life sentence, with a minimum term of twenty years.

Crucially, it came to light in the course of the murder trial that Blakeley had a history of violence towards previous partners. Three former girlfriends gave evidence against him, including one who said he had pushed her down the stairs when she was seven months pregnant.

Now Jayden’s mother is calling for a register to be kept “to keep track of the activities of perpetrators of domestic abuse, violence and stalking” (according to the BBC report). She is quoted as saying of Jayden: “She’d be here now, because for all the agencies at the point when Jayden went missing, to them she was a pain-in-the-butt teenager… and if that register had been here, and they’d all looked at it, they’d have seen how vulnerable she was.”

But what exactly would such a register contain, and do we need it? Or to put it another way, would such a register make a difference?

Now, this is a complex issue, and I could not possibly do justice to it in one short blog post. However, think it is worthwhile to set out a few initial thoughts.

The first question that comes to mind is: Who goes on the register? Is it just those who are convicted of a criminal offence related to domestic abuse? Or would those against whom a family court has made a domestic abuse injunction also be included? If the latter, then two further thoughts come to mind.

Firstly, that many allegations made in the family courts are of a quite ‘low-level’ nature – would all of these trigger inclusion on the register? Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not trivialising domestic abuse. There is no excuse for any of it, but it seems rather extreme to put someone whose actions were not particularly serious on a register. Remember, being on such a register could seriously affect the liberty of that person.

The second, linked, point is that this could lead to an awful lot of people going on to the register. That could lead to one of two effects, both of which would ‘water down’ the idea: that it is impossible to gauge the risk posed by any particular person on the register, or that everyone on the register is considered to be ‘high risk’, even when many of them are not.

And can a perpetrator ever get their name off the register? As I said, being on the register would be a serious matter. Save in the most serious of cases it would surely be unfair to be on it automatically for life, but what must the perpetrator do to show that they are no longer a risk? Or would they simply come off it after a set period of time, as with rehabilitation of offenders? These are questions that would have to be answered.

But the biggest question is the one I’ve already asked: would such a register make a difference?

As suggested by Jayden’s mother, the register could be checked by any agencies involved in the welfare of a vulnerable person. I suppose those agencies could have procedures in place to ensure that the register is checked, when appropriate. However, such cases will surely be comparatively rare. Presumably, the register could be viewed by any member of the public who is concerned about a (potential) partner. However, realistically, how many people entering into a relationship will do this? If you have any concerns about a partner, you will act on those concerns (if you are able to), without needing to look at a register.

And lastly there are already two mechanisms in place which have a similar effect to such a register, both of which were mentioned in the BBC article. Firstly, convicted domestic abusers and stalkers are already captured on the Police National Computer (although that cannot of course be access by the general public), and secondly, we already have the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, better known as ‘Clare’s Law’, which allows the police to disclose information on request about a person’s domestic abuse history. I’m not sure how much a domestic abuse register would add to this.

Nobody knows for certain whether Jayden would still have been alive today if there had been a register. Certainly, the possibility that she could be makes a powerful argument in favour. However, there are clearly some serious questions to be answered before a register is put in place.

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, with his content now supporting our divorce lawyers and child custody lawyers

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