Clare's law

National roll-out of 'Clare's Law' disclosure scheme delayed

Pilot scheme to take place in four areas instead, allowing people to ask police if their partners have a history of domestic violence.

The home secretary, Theresa May, has delayed the national roll-out of "Clare's Law", a scheme under which people would be able to ask the police if their partners have a history of domestic violence.

May told MPs on Monday that a consultation over a national disclosure scheme had raised fears it could be used for "fishing" or "spying". Concerns were also raised about the release of police intelligence material based on unproven allegations that could be used to stigmatise innocent people.

A 12 month pilot will instead run in four police force areas – Manchester, Gwent, Nottinghamshire and Wiltshire – to test both a "right to ask" and a "right to know" scheme.

"The consultation raised important issues on the scope and proportionality of the information that should be disclosed to potential victims and the safeguards that are needed against malicious applications," May said in a Commons written statement.

"I believe that it is right that these issues are addressed and tested in a pilot to ensure that the disclosure scheme is compatible with all relevant law."

May said in October that she wanted to see a national disclosure scheme for potential victims of domestic violence but needed to decide whether it should be on a "right to ask" or a "right to know" basis. The first is triggered by a request from the public and the second by the police deciding to disclose the information to protect a potential victim, even if they had not asked.

The scheme does not require new legal powers and would involve the disclosure of convictions for domestic violence as well as police intelligence on the background of a particular individual, which may include reports of incidents that have not been proven.

"This pilot scheme is designed to prevent tragic incidents from happening, such as that of Clare Wood, by ensuring that there is a clear framework in place with recognised and consistent processes for disclosing information," said May.

Wood, a 36-year-old mother, was murdered by her former partner, George Appleton, in Manchester in 2009. She had met him on the internet. He had three previous convictions under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and was later found hanged. The police were criticised for individual and systemic failings in their handling of the case by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

The proposed national disclosure scheme was strongly criticised as a waste of money by Refuge, the charity that helps victims of domestic violence, which says the government should start by improving the police response to calls for help.

"We are at an absolute loss as to why the government is introducing the new disclosure scheme," said its chief executive, Sandra Horley. "It simply isn't supported by any of us with the expertise to judge its chances of success."

The home secretary also announced on Monday that she was moving to close some loopholes in the sex offenders register after a high court case giving a right of appeal after 15 years to those who are placed on it for life.

May said she would amend the legislation to ensure that all 44,000 on the register who travel abroad for less than three days would have to notify the police, as would those who live in households with a child under 18. The rules are also to be tightened so that those who change their names can no longer seek to avoid being on the register.

(Published by The Guardian - March 5, 2012)

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