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The Right to Know: Domestic Abuse Reforms

Two police districts in Scotland are to pilot a law which will ensure that people can check whether or not their partner has a history of domestic abuse or violence. Described as ‘a right to know’, the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme will enable women and men to request information on their partner’s history and criminal record from the police.

An application can be made by any person, and not simply by the person who is actually in the relationship, and can thus be made by concerned friends, relatives or neighbours.

If such an application is made, the police will then carry out investigations and checks into the partner’s history. Although they are not required to disclose any information under the pilot, they will consider doing so where the individual who made the application may be in danger, such as where there is a history of abusive behavior. Information about previous convictions is considered confidential. As such, it will only be disclosed where the police consider doing so to be lawful and proportionate, and believe that it will prevent further violence. There must be a ‘pressing need for disclosure’. The information may be disclosed to the individual who made the application, or to another person who is well-placed to protect them.

The scheme is known as Clare’s law. It is named after Clare Wood, a young mother who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in Manchester. Her partner had previously served two jail sentences for his behavior towards his former girlfriends. Police were unable to disclose this information to Clare Wood, whose partner went on to strangle her and set her on fire.

The pilot was announced by the Scottish Government’s Justice Secretary, Kenny McAskill, and will commence in November. It follows a similar scheme, which ran for fourteen months in four police districts in England and Wales. It is estimated that over 100 people received potentially life-saving information under that pilot scheme. At present, there are over 60,000 incidents of domestic abuse reported annually in Scotland and the figure has risen over the last few years. The recent pilot is designed to complement a range of other measures designed to tackle the problem, including the creation of six specialist courts to deal with domestic abuse and the closure of a loophole which had been used to allow prosecutions on the less serious charge of threatening and abusive behaviour.

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