Lucinda Connell, Senior Solicitor with Newcastle and Hexham’s Specialist family law firm, Major Family Law, comments in the North East Times that International Women’s Day in March saw the rolling out across the country of a scheme to protect women against violent partners.
The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, known as Clare’s Law, allows the police to disclose information about a partner’s previous history of domestic violence or violent acts.
Home Secretary Teresa May indicated that this was part of a raft of measures introduced by the Government to “hand control back to the victim by ensuring they can make informed decisions about their relationship and escape if necessary”.
Anybody can make an enquiry, but information will only be given to someone at risk or a person in a position to safeguard the victim.
The Scheme was initially piloted in four police areas for a period of time before being rolled out. Guidance from one police force indicates that whilst checks will be carried out as speedily as possible, they can take up to 35 days to complete.
Whilst the Home Secretary asserts the scheme will provide “life saving information”, others are already questioning its practicality and whether it will actually go any way towards improving the situation. Jane Keeper from domestic violence charity Refuge said the law will do very little as it is targeting the wrong problem.
She said, “Most perpetrators of domestic violence are never known to police, social care or the other agencies – so usually if a woman asks the police the likeliest thing, even if he is a perpetrator, is they are not going to know anything”.
In the case of Clare Wood, after whom the law has been named, she met her partner on Facebook and knew nothing about his history of violence against women, which included threats, repeated harassment and the kidnapping at knifepoint of one of his ex-girlfriends. Her murder at the hands of her partner led her father to campaign for a change in the law.
It’s easy to see how her father would feel justified in arguing that his daughter may still be alive in the information on her partner had been disclosed in time, but on the other hand, hers were specific circumstances, and there is no guarantee that she herself would have sought the information even if it were available.
The law does provide for any concerned third party, such as a parent, neighbour or friend to make an application if they are concerned about you, but on what basis are any of those people really justified in intervening in the relationship to such a level? If their concerns are so great, is not more likely that they will be calling the police at the time of a suspected incident?
What if a parent dislikes their child’s choice of partner and makes a request which does not reveal any history? What damage could that do to the parent child relationship? And there is also the argument that if a person needs to make the request about their partner, should they really be in the relationship at all – irrespective of the outcome of the request.
Whilst steps taken at parliamentary level to provide additional protection to victims of domestic abuse are always to be welcomed, it’s not easy to see how this step will provide any realistic protection. On the other hand, other recent changes such as the simultaneous introduction of Domestic Violence Protection Orders seem more likely to offer practical and real protection.
This new power will enable police and magistrates’ courts to provide protection to victims in the immediate aftermath of a domestic violence incident. DVPOs can be used to provide immediate protection to a victim where there is not enough evidence to charge an alleged perpetrator and provide protection to victims via bail conditions. A DVPO can last for up to 28 days, during which time the perpetrator can be prevented from having contact with the victim.
Lucinda Connell is a Senior Solicitor and Collaborative Child lawyer Specialist of Major Family Law, Ponteland, NE20 9SU. W: www.majorfamilylaw.co.uk
01661 82 45 82 – E: Lucinda@majorfamilylaw.co.uk