During Committee stage of LASPO in the House of Lords, Baroness Gale moved an amendment to the bill which would insert a new clause providing for ‘disclosure of information about convictions etc. of violent abusers to members of the public’. It quickly became known as Clare’s Law, after the case of Clare Wood.
In 2007 Clare began a relationship with George Appleton, a man she had met through Facebook. She ended the relationship after a year, but then became the target of a sustained campaign of violence and harassment. Over the next six months Appleton stalked Clare, sexually assaulted her and threatened to kill her. In February 2009 he strangled her, killing her before setting her body on fire. After a six-day manhunt he fled to an abandoned pub and hanged himself.
Baroness Gale said: “Appleton had a long background of violence against women, including repeated allegations and convictions of harassment, threats to kill, and kidnapping one of his ex-girlfriends at knifepoint. Clare had no way of knowing this. Had she had that information, it could have saved her life.” She added that, at the inquest into Clare’s death, the coroner recommended that “consideration should be given to the disclosure of such convictions and their circumstances to potential victims in order that they can make informed choices about matters affecting their safety and that of their children.”
In response Home Secretary Theresa May has announced the start of the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme. She said: “Domestic violence is a dreadful crime which sees two women a week die at the hands of their partners, and millions more suffer years of abuse in their own homes. That is why we are constantly looking at new ways of protecting victims by giving them the support they need.”
Under the scheme women will have the right to ask the police whether a new or existing partner has a violent past. If police checks show that a person may be at risk of domestic violence from their partner, the police will consider disclosing the information. Officers will also be able to warn a woman that she may be at risk if they are tipped off by a third party, such as a doctor, that a violent individual has begun a new relationship. Both men and women will be able to apply to check on a partner.
Police in Gwent and Wiltshire will be the first to start piloting the scheme. Forces in Nottinghamshire and Greater Manchester will join the pilot, which runs until 2013, in September.
The Association of Chief Police Officers’ lead on domestic abuse, Chief Constable Carmel Napier, said: “A key part of policing is to protect people from harm. The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme is intended to empower people to make informed decisions to protect themselves and their children when getting involved with a new partner. It will also allow the police to act in the best interests of people they believe could be at risk of violence by sharing information of a partners’ violent past.”
Critics including Refuge, the domestic violence charity, have said that the initiative is a waste of police time, and there are also concerns about the potential for malicious complaints.