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On 2nd February 2009, 36-year-old Clare Wood was murdered by her ex-boyfriend, George Appleton. Clare had made numerous complaints to the police over the months prior to her death, including reporting Mr Appleton for attempted rape and harassment.
Clare had no idea that her former partner had an extensive criminal background, particularly relating to offences of domestic abuse. He had been imprisoned on two separate occasions and had failed to reveal this information to Clare.
After her death, Clare’s father became a key campaigner for the introduction of a disclosure law as he and the family were horrified to find out the history of their daughter’s former partner. During the murder investigation, they learned about the criminal history of Appleton which included violence to women in the form of threats, harassment and kidnapping of a previous partner.
They also found out that Appleton was previously jailed for six months for breaching a restraining order and again a year later in 2003 for three years for harassment towards a woman.
Clare’s family felt that there had been a great injustice, as had this information been disclosed to Clare, she would have had the opportunity to make an informed decision about her relationship with Mr Appleton at the outset. The outcome of Mr Wood’s campaigning for a change in legislation to protect people like Clare, was the introduction of the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, or “Clare’s Law” as it is widely known.
The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS) was implemented across all police forces in England and Wales in March 2014. It enabled the police to disclose information to a victim or potential victim of domestic abuse about their partner’s or ex-partner’s previous abusive or violent offending. This was an important move forward in combatting domestic abuse, as domestic abuse will affect 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men in their lifetime and has more repeat victims than any other crime.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show that 5.7% of adults aged 16 to 59 years experienced domestic abuse in the year ending March 2022; there is no significant change compared with the year ending March 2020 (6.1%). In fact, there has been little change in the prevalence of domestic abuse in recent years, where it has remained around 6%.
As well as domestic abuse, the figures show that 2.7% of adults aged 16 to 59 years had experienced sexual assault, including attempted offences, in the year ending March 2022; there is no significant change compared with the year ending March 2020 (2.2%). The prevalence of sexual assault has remained between 2% and 3% since the year ending March 2016.
What is Clare’s Law?
Clare’s Law is a scheme which allows you to request information from the police if you believe your partner may be a danger towards you. Both men and women can request information about their partner, or third parties such as friends or relatives can make requests if they have concerns about a friend’s or relative’s partner and want to find out if someone has a record of abusive offences or presents a risk of violence or abuse.
Clare’s Law did not introduce any new legislation; the scheme was based on the police’s common law power to disclose information where it is necessary to prevent crime.
Any disclosure must be within the existing legal framework and, in particular, have due regard to established case law, the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Data Protection Act. Clare’s Law provides the police with a clear framework, with recognised and consistent processes, for the exercise of the common law powers in the context of domestic abuse. By putting the guidance on a statutory footing, it made sure that the scheme was applied consistently across all police forces to help increase the number of applications.
Following a 14-month pilot in Gwent, Wiltshire, Nottinghamshire and Greater Manchester police forces, Clare’s Law was implemented in England and Wales in 2014. In the first 12 months, outside the four forces involved with the pilot, Lancashire had the highest number of disclosures at 146, while Norfolk had the lowest, with five.
The Clare’s Law (DVDS) scheme does not replace:
- Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks – Employers can check the criminal record of someone applying for a role. This is known as getting a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check.
- Subject access requests (SAR) – A SAR is a request made by or on behalf of an individual for the information which they are entitled to ask for under Article 15 of the UK GDPR.
- Freedom of Information (FOI) requests – The Freedom of Information Act 2000 provides public access to information held by public authorities.
It may overlap with and complement these and other disclosure processes, such as Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) and the Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme (Sarah’s Law). Consideration will be given to which process is the most appropriate in each individual case.
How does Clare’s Law work?
All UK police forces have the right to release information to a possible victim who feels that they may be at risk and are obligated to defend and protect the public from domestic violence and other elements of crime. Information may not always be given to the third party that makes the initial disclosure request; this is because it may be more suitable to release the information to the victim or someone who is in a better position to safeguard the subject.
Each request for information under the scheme is considered on a case-by-case basis and the police will seek legal advice when necessary.
The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (Clare’s Law) recognises two procedures for disclosing information:
- “Right to Ask” – This is triggered by a member of the public applying to the police for a disclosure. Under “right to ask”, individual members of the public, whether the partner or a third party, can proactively seek information, with an expectation that the agencies responsible for safeguarding victims of domestic violence will check to see whether relevant information exists and, if it does, that consideration will be given to its disclosure where necessary to protect the victim.
- “Right to Know” – This is triggered by the police making a proactive decision to disclose information to protect a potential victim. Under “right to know”, where a safeguarding agency comes into the possession of information about the previous violent and abusive behaviour of someone that may cause harm to another person, members of the public can now expect the safeguarding agency to consider whether any disclosure should be made and to disclose information if it is lawful; that is, if it is necessary and proportionate to protect the potential victim from crime.
Clare’s Law is focused on disclosure and risk management where someone is identified as having a conviction, caution, reprimand or final warning for violent or abusive offences; and/or information held about someone’s behaviour which reasonably leads the police and other safeguarding agencies to believe that someone poses a risk of harm to another person.
How to make a request under Clare’s Law
A request under Clare’s Law, which is also known as a Clare’s Law application, may be completed both online and over the phone. Alternatively, you may visit a police station. The most commonly used method is completing the online application form. These forms are readily available on the websites of each police force so search for your local police force.
The application form itself is very simple and straightforward. There is a function on the police websites to delete your search history so that no one needs to know that you have made the application.
To make a request under Clare’s Law you need to contact the police. When you contact the police, tell them that you want to make an application under Clare’s Law. A police officer or a member of police staff will take the details of what prompted your enquiry and the nature of your relationship with your partner or details of your friend or relative’s partner if you are making a request because you are concerned about another person.
You will also need to give your name, address, contact details and date of birth.
At a later stage, you will need to provide proof of your identity such as:
- Your passport.
- Your driving licence.
- A household utility bill.
- Your bank statement.
- Your birth certificate.
The police will run some initial checks based on the information that you have provided and conduct an initial risk assessment. The purpose of these initial checks is to establish if there are any immediate concerns – no disclosure will take place at this stage.
Following this first stage, it may be necessary for you to participate in a face-to-face meeting with the police who will use this meeting to gather more information about the individual and the relationship.
The police will meet with other agencies in order to discuss the information that you have provided and they will look at other records such as the prison services, social services etc. If the agencies find traces of abusive behaviour or feel that there is a risk of violence, they will consider disclosing this information. These checks will take around 35 days.
If there is proof that the individual has been abusive in the past then this potentially indicates that there is a need to make a disclosure to prevent further crime. This will be disclosed to protect the individual who may possibly be harmed. If the police deem it necessary to disclose their findings, they will do so in person so the officers can assess whether or not you are at any immediate risk.
This process does follow strict confidentiality, so prior to any information being disclosed, you will be asked to sign a document agreeing that the information that is provided to you will not be used for any other purpose nor will it be passed on further.
The police must satisfy several tests before a decision to disclose is made under Clare’s Law:
- That the disclosure is necessary to protect the person from being the victim of a crime.
- That there is a pressing need for the disclosure.
- That the interference with the perpetrator’s rights is necessary and proportionate for the prevention of crime.
All disclosures will be accompanied by a robust safety plan, tailored to the needs of the victim or potential victim and based on all relevant information available.
If at any stage during the initial contact the police believe that the individual is alleging a crime, for example a specific incidence of a violent or abusive act that has taken place, rather than asking for information about the previous violent or abusive offending of a partner, then the police will investigate the crime report and follow local procedures. However, it is possible for the procedures leading to a disclosure under this Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme to run concurrently with the criminal investigation.
For the purposes of “Right to Know”, the trigger that may lead to a disclosure under this scheme is where the police receive indirect information that may impact the safety of the victim and that has not been communicated to the police via the “Right to Ask” process.
Is Clare’s Law successful?
The latest domestic abuse statistics show in the year ending March 2020 that 8,591 “Right to Know” applications were applied for in England and Wales and 4,479 (52%) applications resulted in disclosure. In the year ending March 2020, 11,556 “Right to Ask” applications were applied for in England and Wales and 4,236 (37%) applications resulted in disclosure.
However, Freedom of Information (FOI) requests made by the Guardian newspaper show that although Home Office guidance states that police will aim to complete the enquiries within 35 days, response times to 375 out of 1,609 “Right to Ask” requests (23%) approved by police in England and Wales in 2020 fell below this target.
Out of the 14 forces able to provide full statistics for 2020, Bedfordshire proportionally failed to meet the guidance most often, as information relating to 20 of the 33 approved “Right to Ask” requests (61%) took more than 35 days to disclose. It was followed by Leicestershire police, which had a rate of 51%, with 68 out of 134 approved applicants waiting over 35 days to find out whether or not the suspected abuser had a violent offending history.
The Met, Derbyshire and Staffordshire police, by contrast, revealed material within the advised timeframe for every request they disclosed in 2020.
The delays coincided with a surge in requests for information about partners’ potential violent pasts, which more than doubled from 3,479 in 2018 to 8,438 in 2020, according to responses from 26 out of the 43 forces in England and Wales.
Questions have also been raised over the reasons behind the huge disparity in how forces release the information. Essex police, which did not respond to a request by the Guardian for comment, disclosed only 36 (7%) of the 529 “Right to Ask” applications it received in 2020. Over the same period, Norfolk constabulary disclosed 61% of the total requests it received.
A Bedfordshire police spokesperson said that the COVID pandemic had affected the training of new staff managing the applications and had made it harder to meet people at risk. A spokesperson for Leicestershire police said the rise in the number of applications last year (2020), along with lockdown restrictions, contributed to the delays, adding that their force will continue to do all it can to support victims of domestic abuse.
The Government consulted on key changes being introduced into the guidance to ensure that the scheme is being implemented as efficiently and effectively as possible across all police forces in order to provide better support and faster protection for victims, ahead of placing the guidance in statute as set out in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. This will help ensure a uniform and consistent implementation of the scheme by the police.
The issue with Clare’s Law was that the disclosure of such sensitive information was at each police force’s discretion; because Clare’s Law was a set of guidelines and not legislation, the police were under no obligation to disclose information.
The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 which received Royal Assent on 29th April 2021 has been described as the “most comprehensive package ever” and focuses on bringing the issue of domestic abuse to the forefront of society. The Act allows Clare’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.
What can and cannot be disclosed under Clare’s Law?
In terms of what data can be disclosed, a team will determine the following:
- Whether a disclosure of information should be made.
- What can and cannot be disclosed.
- Who a disclosure will be made to, such as the victim and/or a third party.
- If any additional safeguarding action needs to be taken in order to protect a potential victim, this will be in the form of a safety plan suited to a victim’s needs which will aim to provide them with the necessary support.
An individual’s listed convictions are private and will only be disclosed if the necessary personnel believe that is it lawful and proportionate to do so.
Under Clare’s Law, the offences where a conviction or allegation may be disclosed include but are not limited to:
- Common assault.
- False imprisonment.
More specifically under the:
Offences against the Person Act 1861.
- Section 4 (soliciting murder).
- Section 16 (threats to kill).
- Section 18 (wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm).
- Section 20 (malicious wounding).
- Section 21 (attempting to choke, suffocate or strangle in order to commit or assist in committing an indictable offence).
- Section 23 (maliciously administering poison etc. so as to endanger life or inflict grievous bodily harm).
- Section 28 (causing bodily injury by explosives).
- Section 29 (using explosives etc. with intent to do grievous bodily harm).
- Section 30 (placing explosives with intent to do bodily injury).
- Section 31 (setting spring guns etc. with intent to do grievous bodily harm).
- Section 35 (injuring persons by furious driving).
- Section 38 (assault with intent to resist arrest).
- Section 47 (assault occasioning actual bodily harm).
Public Order Act 1986.
- Section 1 (riot).
- Section 2 (violent disorder).
- Section 3 (affray).
- Section 4 (fear or provocation of violence).
- Section 4a (intentional harassment, alarm or distress).
- Section 5 (harassment, alarm or distress).
Protection from Harassment Act 1997.
- Section 2 (offence of harassment).
- Section 4 (putting people in fear of violence).
Explosive Substances Act 1883.
- Section 2 (causing explosion likely to endanger life or property).
- Section 3 (attempt to cause explosion, or making or keeping explosives with intent to endanger life or property).
Children and Young Persons Act 1933.
- Section 1 (cruelty to children).
Firearms Act 1968.
- Section 16 (possession of firearm with intent to endanger life).
- Section 16A (possession of firearm with intent to cause fear of violence).
Theft Act 1968.
- Section 7 (theft).
- Section 8 (robbery or assault with intent to rob).
- Section 9 (burglary with intent to inflict grievous bodily harm).
- Section 10 (aggravated burglary).
- Section 21 (blackmail).
Criminal Damage Act 1971.
- Section 1 (criminal damage including arson).
Criminal Law Act 1977.
- Section 6 (violence for securing entry).
Criminal Attempts Act 1981.
- Section 1 (attempting to commit an offence).
Child Abduction Act 1984.
- Section 1 (offence of abduction of child by parent etc.).
- Section 2 (offence of abduction of child by other persons).
Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.
- Section 51 (intimidation, etc. of witnesses, jurors and others).
Crime and Disorder Act 1998.
- Section 29 (racially or religiously aggravated assaults).
- Section 30 (racially or religiously aggravated criminal damage).
- Section 31 (racially or religiously aggravated public order offences).
- Section 31 (racially or religiously aggravated harassment).
Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004.
- Section 5 (causing or allowing the death of a child or vulnerable adult).
Sexual Offences Act 2003.
- Section 1 (rape).
- Section 2 (assault by penetration).
- Section 3 (sexual assault).
- Section 4 (causing a person to engage in sexual activity without consent).
- Section 5 (rape of a child under 13).
- Section 6 (assault of a child under 13 by penetration).
- Section 7 (sexual assault of a child under 13).
- Section 8 (causing or inciting a child under 13 to engage in sexual activity).
- Section 9 (sexual activity with a child).
- Section 10 (causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity).
- Section 11 (engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a child).
Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants etc.) Act 2004.
- Section 4 (trafficking people for exploitation).
Modern Slavery Act 2015.
- Section 1 (slavery, servitude, forced or compulsory labour).
Serious Crime Act.
- Section 76 (controlling or coercive behaviour).
Protection from Harassment Act 1997.
- Section 2 (offence of harassment).
- Section 2a (offence of stalking).
- Section 4 (putting people in fear of violence).
- Section 4A (stalking involving fear of violence or serious alarm or distress).
The aim of Clare’s Law is to give a person information regarding their current or ex-partner as to whether they have a history of violence and abusive offending that may pose a risk to them. A Domestic Violence Disclosure can provide potentially life-saving information to help people to make a more informed decision about whether to continue the relationship they are in.
If you are in a relationship and are worried that your partner may have been abusive in the past, Clare’s Law gives you a way to make enquiries about your partner to help you to make a more informed decision on whether to continue the relationship and provides further support when you are making that choice.
You can phone 101, the police non-emergency number, or if you believe there is an immediate risk of harm to you or someone else, or it is an emergency, you should always call 999.
Other support helplines include: