Cases in the News & Practice Updates

‘Clare’s Law’ – The new regime to disclose whether a partner has a history of domestic violence

Clare’s Law, or more accurately the ‘Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme’, which rolled out nationwide on the 8th March 2014, is not actually a new law at all. Instead the scheme introduces a new procedure open to all members of the public by which a person can check to see if a partner has any previous convictions for domestic violence.

The scheme operates under the existing common law powers of the police to disclose the details of an individual’s previous convictions if there is deemed to be a ‘pressing need’ to disclosure the information to prevent further crime. This power is, however, balanced by the need for the disclosure to be ‘necessary and proportionate’ in accordance with the Human Rights Act 1998. In addition, any disclosure must also be made and used in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998.

The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme operates in a similar way to the Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme that has now been in operation nationwide since August 2010. The new scheme enables any member of the public to ask the police if the person they are in a relationship with has any previous convictions for domestic violence, or whether there is any information held by the police or other agencies that suggests the individual may pose a risk of domestic violence. Once a request is made the police will consider whether information held should be released by applying the tests within the common law and the statutory framework.

An important development with this new procedure is that it is not only a person in the relationship who can request disclosure of any previous convictions for domestic violence, but anyone who has concern for a friend or family member or someone they know who is in a relationship. However, if disclosure is deemed appropriate it will only be made to the partner at risk in the relationship so that they can decide on an informed basis whether they wish to continue in the relationship.

Alongside the recognition of a member of the public’s ‘right to ask’ whether a new partner has a history of domestic violence, the scheme also places a duty on the police under a ‘right to know’ procedure where they will proactively inform a member of the public if their partner has a history of domestic violence and there is deemed to be a ‘pressing need’ to disclose that information.