A scheme known as Clare's Law, officially referred to as the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, named after Clare Wood who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 2009, will come into force from March 2014. It follows a successful 14-month pilot conducted in four police force areas, which provided over 100 people with information on potentially violent partners.
The law will allow people who are worried about their partners' violent past to be able to ask police to check their criminal records. Clare Wood met her ex-boyfriend on Facebook and was unaware of his history of violence towards women. Her father speculated that the scheme could have saved her life.
In a written statement to the House of Commons Home Secretary, Theresa May, said: ‘Domestic abuse shatters lives - Clare's Law provides people with the information they need to escape an abusive situation before it ends in tragedy.
‘The national scheme will ensure that more people can make informed decisions about their relationship and escape if necessary.'
The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme has two functions, the ‘right to ask,' which enables someone to ask the police about a partner's previous history of domestic violence or violent acts, and the ‘right to know,' where police can proactively disclose information in prescribed circumstances.
Refuge, a charity which helps victims of domestic violence, is opposed to the implementation of the law. Its chief executive, Sandra Horley, has voiced concern that whilst it may help a few individuals it is unlikely to help the vast majority.
‘Clare's Law sounds good on paper, but in reality it will do very little to help the hundreds of thousands of women and children who experience domestic violence in this country', Ms Horley commented.
She added that the law could potentially be counter-productive: ‘Domestic violence is also chronically under-reported, with only 23% of victims reporting their experiences to the police. This means that the vast majority of perpetrators are never known to the police. If a woman inquires about her partner under the new disclosure scheme, she may be told that he has no history of violence, she may then believe that she is safe, but this does not necessarily mean that she will be safe - possibly quite the reverse.'
However, the Victim Support charity welcomed the plans stating that timing is key and early intervention is vital before domestic violence starts. Its chief executive, Javed Khan, commented that it is important to give people the ‘support they need both before and after a disclosure has been made, so they can make an informed choice about what to do next'.