The Domestic Violence disclosure Scheme
Clare’s Law, which is also known as The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS) is a police policy which gives people the right to know if their current partner or ex-partner has any previous history of abuse or violence.
The scheme is called Clare’s Law after Clare Wood. She was murdered in 2009 by her abusive ex-partner. Clare’s father successfully campaigned for the law and it was formally rolled out across England & Wales in 2014. The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 received Royal Assent on the 29th April 2021. The Act allows Claire’s Law a statutory footing, meaning that victims have a legal right to check out the offending history of their partner, and this is no longer at the police force’s discretion.
Clare’s Law gives you the right to:
- Make an application to the police requesting information about a current or ex-partner. This may be because you are worried that they may have been abusive or violent to previous partners and therefore could pose a risk to you in the future.
- Request information from police about the current or ex-partner of a close friend, neighbour or family member, because there is concern that, that person could be at risk of domestic abuse or violence in the future.
This is the ‘right to ask’.
Anyone aged 16 or over has ‘the right to ask’ the police regardless of if your enquiry relates to a heterosexual or same-sex relationship. People have the ‘right to ask’ about a partner regardless of their (or their neighbour, friend or family member’s) race, religion, gender identity or any other characteristics.
The ‘right to know’.
This means that if police checks show that your current or ex-partner has a record of violent or abusive behaviour, and they believe that you may be at risk, they may decide to share that information with you. If you are worried that you current or ex-partner has been abusive or violent in the past, Clare’s Law was created to formally give you the right to find out.
I am a victim/survivor of domestic abuse. How can I apply to Claire’s Law?
- You will need to go to the police and tell them of your concerns. You can do this by going to your local police station or by calling 101. Then ask how to get a Claire’s Law or a ‘domestic violence disclosure’.
- The police will ask the you to give an overview of your concerns. They will take your name and contact details so they can get back to you.
- If you tell the police anything that could be a criminal offence i.e. that your partner has hit you – the police are obliged and have a duty to investigate that as a crime, and may arrest your abusive partner. They should also give you details of a specialist domestic abuse service, local to you.
- Depending on what you have told the police in this initial chat, the police may ask you to come into the police station again for a face to face chat so that they can take the details to apply for the disclosure. You will need to take 2 forms of identification with you to this meeting. If you have one, you should also take your Independent Domestic Violence Advocate (IDVA) with you. The police should also speak to other agencies, such as social services, to see what, if any, information they hold on the perpetrator and/or you.
- Once the police have gathered all the information , they will do a risk assessment to decide if there is a risk of harm to you, based on the information they have.
- If the police don’t think further abuse is likely – even if the perpetrator has a history of violent and abusive behaviour – they will not make a disclosure. This doesn’t mean that the person does not have a violent and/or abusive past: it just means the police either don’t have the information – for example, the person may never have been arrested – or they don’t feel the risk is high enough to disclose at that time. The information the police and other agencies hold on people is confidential and private. There has to be a pressing need for them to share it and if they haven’t got one, they are not allowed to do it.
- If the police think that there is a risk of further harm to you, whether that be physical, sexual or emotional, they will put together a safety plan about how they can make any necessary disclosures. The police will think carefully about who that disclosure should be given to. If it is you, you ARE NOT allowed to share that information with anyone without explicit permission from the police, and the police can’t give the information to anyone unless it is necessary.
- If you are a victim/survivor and you ask for the disclosure, it is likely that you will be given the information directly, unless the police feel it is in your best interest to give it to someone else instead.
- If someone else requests a disclosure as a third party – a family member, for example – the police may go straight to you to tell you any information they have. They may not tell the third party and you may not necessarily be able to disclose the information to them. If you are very young or very vulnerable you may be allowed to disclose to your parents or someone else who can help to keep you safe. If you haven’t got an IDVA or anyone else involved, you can ask the police if you are able to disclose the information to a parent or someone you are close to but the police may not allow this.
- However, once the police have made the disclosure, if you haven’t already got an IDVA, the police should refer you to a specialist organisation so you can get support.
Some other points to consider
•Why do we need the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (Claire’s Law)?
Although the police already have common law powers to disclose information relating to someone’s criminal convictions or charges, the scheme gives the police a clear framework so that they can exercise these powers in relation to domestic abuse. Putting the scheme on a statutory footing will ensure the scheme is used consistently across all of the police forces in England and Wales.
•Does it put people at more risk after the disclosure?
One of the most dangerous times for a victim/survivor of domestic abuse is when they leave the relationship. But this has to be balanced with the potential for the victim/survivor to know about any previous domestic abuse so that they can be empowered and make informed choices for themselves about the relationship. It is vital that everyone that applies for a Claire’s Law Disclosure must be given access to support services and a safety plan based on the information they have given and that receive.
•Is Claire’s Law an infringement on civil liberties?
Any decision made by the police must be made on the facts of the individual case and must satisfy several tests before a disclosure can be made. That disclosure is necessary to protect a person from being a victim, that there is a pressing need for the disclosure and that the impinging of the alleged perpetrator’s rights is necessary and proportionate for the prevention of crime.