Here we go again. The government is so desperate to improve its feminist credentials that the Home Office is implementing a scheme first conceived by Hazel (“rocking the boat”) Blears in 2011. The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, otherwise known as ‘Clare’s Law’. is named after murder victim Clare Wood. Piloted last year, it is now being rolled out nationally and will give women the right to demand information about their boyfriends from the police national database.
Until now, the police have discretion about the information they will supply in response to a request from a member of the public. Under Clare’s Law they will be bound to disclose a man’s history of domestic violence, in response to requests and in some cases proactively.
Clare Wood died in 2009 at the hands of her violent lover, a man she met on the internet. Her father believes that this new scheme could have saved her life. Everyone will sympathise with his tragic loss, but the law which bears his daughter’s name is a very bad idea.
First of all, it’s unlikely to save lives. In fact it’s hard to see how it would have saved Clare. She met George Appleton on Facebook and died at his hands a year later, after the breakdown of their relationship. Her father admits that he took an instant dislike to Appleton; he believes that if Clare had been told by the police that her boyfriend had once been jailed for harassment, she would have ended the relationship earlier. Perhaps she would, but that might simply have precipitated Appleton’s attack.
By the time a woman is prepared to talk to a police officer about her boyfriend’s character, it is likely that she is already in an abusive relationship. The Home Office does not, it seems, envisage that every woman should consult the police before going on a first date. But how will a woman prove she’s serious and not just making an idle or mischievous enquiry? And will she be pledged to secrecy, or free to tell her friends on Facebook?
Not surprisingly, privacy campaigners have already expressed concern about Clare’s Law. If an offender has served his sentence and has been released, on the basis that he is no longer a threat to society, is it right that his record should be available? Nor will the disclosure be limited to previous convictions – it will include unproven allegations made by previous partners, as well as charges that were dropped. How can this be justified?
Worst of all is the dangerous assumption that the police will do our thinking for us, implying we can rely on a database to tell us if someone is safe to know. This approach led to the creation of nearly 50 different public service databases under the last government, including CRB checks and Integrated Children’s Systems, encouraging the abandonment of common sense and personal experience in favour of box ticking.
By all means let the government issue warnings that internet dating is dangerous, and so is moving in with a boyfriend after just a few months. And maybe the Home Secretary should draw attention to the fact that most domestic violence is between partners who are cohabiting, not married. But don’t try to delude us that a police check can ever be a substitute for personal judgement, common sense and caution.