For women and men who have suffered domestic abuse, entering into a new relationship can be challenging. The concern is always that the new partner may have a record of domestic violence, and entering into a new relationship will mean that the cycle repeats itself all over again. To help victims of domestic abuse feel more confident about entering into a new relationship, ‘Clare’s Law’ was introduced in 2004. Now, the Home Office is releasing new guidance that should speed up the release of data and allow people to access that essential data faster.
What is Clare’s Law?
Clare’s Law is officially known as the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS). The scheme was named after Clare Wood, who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 2009. After years of campaigning by Clare’s father and family, the scheme was introduced in 2014. Under the DVDS, you can apply to the police to determine if your current or ex-partner has a history of domestic violence. This “Right to Ask” also allows you to ask on behalf of a person you think may be at risk, including a neighbour, close friend or family member.
If police checks confirm that a person has a history of abusive or violent behaviour, then they may decide to disclose some of that information to you under the “Right to Know” subclause in the scheme.
However, just because you ask about someone’s background did not necessarily mean that the police would disclose any information to you. They will have to decide if it’s appropriate to share any or all of the information they hold, as long as it doesn’t conflict with an individual’s rights to privacy.
Does it cover just physical abuse?
As well as physical assault, Clare’s Law was intended to protect partners against any form of domestic abuse. This includes harassment, stalking, psychological intimidation, manipulation or threats, and sexual assault. Recently, additional categories have been added to this list to cover online stalking and abuse.
Updating Clare’s Law
The new guidance, currently being consulted on by the Home Office, makes two significant changes:
- Firstly, the process has been speeded up from the previous 35 days to 28 days. This reduces the amount of time that victims will have to wait for information provided by the police by a week. That week could make all the difference to a vulnerable person in a potentially toxic relationship. For those who discover that their partners have no record of domestic abuse or violence, it can be a big step forward to reclaiming a normal, loving relationship status and reinvesting trust into a partnership.
- Secondly, it changes the discretionary status of information sharing to a mandatory process.
The updated guidance from the Home Office also takes a fresh look at best practice for online applications. This will include additional support to victims by providing links to support organisations and groups. The online portals also have a ‘quick escape’ option that allows victims to log out with a single step to protect applicants who may be in a risky situation.
The Domestic Abuse Act 2021
While Clare’s Law has been effective in providing real steps forward in preventing the cycle of violence domestic abuse sufferers endure, the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 goes much further. This Act received Royal Assent in April 2021. It represents a real advancement in curtailing the growth of domestic violence in all its forms, from ‘gaslighting’ and psychological abuse to attempted murder and sexual assault.
It contains the first statutory definition of domestic abuse to include mental and even economic abuse (such as controlling a partner’s financial affairs).
It also gives Clare’s Law statutory status. It is now a legal right for victims to check out their partner’s history and a legal obligation for the police to provide that information. It is no longer as discretionary as it was before.
Will this stop domestic violence in its tracks? Sadly, that’s unlikely. But what it will do is give victims the right to check with the authorities that they are not moving from one toxic relationship straight into another.
How our Domestic Abuse Solicitors can help you
Domestic abuse can happen to anyone, regardless of their gender or financial circumstances. Our Domestic Abuse Solicitors understand how frightening it is to be a victim of such abuse and will work quickly and tirelessly to ensure you can protect yourself and your children and move on to a positive future.
We work in the strictest confidence to put in place Non-Molestation and/or Occupation Orders to protect you from harm. Court Orders to protect domestic abuse victims often have to be applied urgently, without notifying the other party. You can trust our team to provide sensitive, practical advice and make an emergency application to the Court if required.
If you’ve experienced domestic violence and need legal help, contact our family law solicitors in London in complete confidence by email or call us on 020 8349 0321.