It has been announced that Clare’s Law is to be expanded to cover all of England and Wales after a successful pilot scheme, yet what is this law and what does it cover?
The law is named after Clare Wood who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in Manchester, whilst unaware that he had a history of violence against women. It is expected to be rolled out early next year.
Clare Wood made a 999 call to the police telling them that her ex-boyfriend George Appleton was at the front door, threatening to break in and kill her. She had previously reported him to the police for harassment, sexual assault and criminal damage but despite this it took police 24 hours to respond. Her body was found at the property; she had been strangled and set on fire. Appleton went on the run and committed suicide, his body being found in a derelict pub a few days later.
Clare’s family disliked Appleton from the start and were deeply worried about her relationship with him but had no way of checking his background which did, it later emerged, include a history of violence against women. Since Clare’s murder her family have been campaigning for the right for concerned families to be informed about the relevant criminal record of a partner, hence the name Clare’s law.
How it will work
After a request has been made, the police will share data with other agencies including social services and prison and probation services, to ascertain what details can be disclosed. Any disclosures made must be “lawful, necessary and proportionate” and requests are not limited to the partner themselves but can be made by anyone, such as parents, neighbours and friends. This would have been important in the case of Clare Wood as it was her parents who were concerned as to her partner’s possible criminal past.
Disclosure will occur in one of two ways.
- Right to ask – under the new law concerned people will be able to apply to police forces in England and Wales for information on a partner’s history of domestic violence. A panel of experts including the police and other agencies would check all requests that come in and support would be given to victims where necessary.
- Right to know – police can release information before a request comes in under some prescribed circumstances.
The law is officially known as the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme and new Domestic Violence Protection Orders will be rolled out throughout the country at the same time as Clare’s Law is introduced.
Notices will be issued by a police officer at superintendent rank or above if they have reasonable grounds to believe that a victim is at risk of future violent behaviour. The case would then go before a magistrate’s court within 48 hours of the notice being made. If it is granted the order would last between a minimum of 14 and a maximum of 28 days.
Some domestic violence charities have branded Clare’s Law a waste of time, saying that in most cases the abuser will not be known to the police and it is only in isolated cases, such as that of George Appleton, that it will prove effective. However, the trial has proved successful and it is hoped the new rules will help to rectify some of the mistakes apparent in the tragic case of Clare Wood.