In 2009 a Manchester woman Clare Wood, 36, was strangled by ex-boyfriend George Appleton who then committed suicide. Appleton had a record of violence against women including kidnapping an ex-girlfriend at knifepoint. At this point a campaign was begun by Clare’s family to allow women to check whether a prospective boyfriend had a history of domestic violence. Their efforts have resulted in the Home Secretary Theresa Ma agreeing to a trial of what is colloquially known as Clare’s Law in Wiltshire and Gwent ( http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/9401303/Clares-Law-trial-to-begin.html)
Clare’s law will allow a person to get the police to check whether a man (or in these pc times a woman) they intend to start a relationship with has any history of domestic violence: “Under the scheme, both men and women will be able to apply to check on a partner with whom they are embarking on an “intimate relationship”. (Ibid)
Astonishingly, third parties are also allowed to make applications:
“Applications will also be allowed from family members, friends and neighbours on behalf of another person if they have a “reasonable” fear that they may be at risk.” (ibid)_
There is a considerable lack of detail about the trial, but from media reports it appears that all the government agencies involved in domestic violence cases – the police and various social services – will share their information on an alleged abuse. In addition, there is an intention for the police or any other public service involved in domestic violence work to actively seek out those involved with someone who has a history of domestic violence but who has not sought information about the person they are involved with and inform them that their partner has a history of domestic violence.
What information will be considered as evidence of domestic violence is unclear. It might only be criminal convictions but that is unlikely. Cautions, which technically are not part of a criminal record, would surely be included. It is likely that information which has not resulted in a conviction or caution would be used because of the proposed sharing of information between the police and other agencies and the natural desire of public servants to cover themselves against any accusations of incompetence or dereliction of duty. ( Imagine the outcry if the police knew from social services of accusations of domestic violence but did not pass on the information to someone who was later assaulted. ) The amount of information which is held by the police on people who have not been convicted of an offence or cautioned is considerable, not least because DNA samples and fingerprints are routinely taken and kept when someone is arrested. Social services will also have hordes of material on alleged cases of domestic violence.
The minimum that could revealed to an applicant for information would be a statement that a person did or did not have a history of domestic violence. It will almost certainly be more detailed because domestic violence includes violence against children. This would mean the target of the violence would have to be revealed. Then there is the question of the frequency and degree of violence . It would make little sense to simply tell a woman that a man had been violent towards other women or children because that would not allow the woman to assess the risk.
The quality of the information held could be very questionable. Cases of domestic violence are often a matter of one person’s word against another. Injuries may be slight or, if more serious , difficult to ascribe to one side or the other. A woman may have a black eye, but whether she got it as she claims from her partner hitting her without physical provocation or it was caused when the man defended himself from an attack by the woman is next to impossible to tell. Another likely scenario could be injuries caused by accident which one or other of the parties claims were deliberate, for example, bruising from a fall as someone in a rage tripped over something. Another likely scenario is a couple who regularly have blazing rows and an officious neighbour who keeps reporting the rows to the police. This will be recorded even though the rows may not result in any violence and the couple may enjoy the rows or at least find them cathartic. The danger in the context of Clare’s law is that the police and social services will record incidents which do not result in charges or a caution and often record behaviour which is simply part of normal life. These records will be treated as evidence of domestic violence even though nothing has been proved or admitted.
Then there is the question of what the police will do about a man who has a history of violence but not domestic violence. It is all too probable that non-domestic violence will, if not immediately, be eventually brought into such background checks, most probably after a woman is killed by someone with a history of violence but not domestic violence. Nor would that necessarily be the end of policy creep because if violence is revealed to a prospective or actual partner why should not drunkenness, drug use, serious non-violent crimes and suchlike also be revealed?
Even at its narrowest this system would be a gross intrusion into the privacy of the individual. It could result, in extreme cases, of a person being constantly denied a normal intimate relationship through the police or social services actively pursuing their attempts at relationships and regularly sabotaging them. The other danger is that the idea of asking for a police check could become routine, either in the population as a whole or amongst certain groups, for example, the middle class or single parents. That could also regularly sabotage attempts at relationships. A person, especially a man, who suffered such treatment, could lose control and turn violent not only against prospective partners but against those who were sabotaging the relationships.
There is also the question of what the state would end up doing if a woman knew that her partner was violent but stayed with him regardless. In the ever more aggressive politically correct British state it is not implausible that a few years down the line the scope of Clare’s law would be broadened to enable the banning of those with domestic violence in their past from any intimate relationship or the removal of children from a woman if she persisted in a relationship with a man with a history of domestic violence. Incredible? Well, reflect on the readiness of social services to remove children from their parents which already exists.
The gross intrusions into privacy are just one of the serious ills created by Clare’s Law. A person gaining information about a person’s tendency towards violence and any convictions would have an open invitation to either blackmail or malicious behaviour which would lead to the person declared violent having their past revealed to employer, family members and friends. This could result in the fracture of important social relationships and the loss of a job. The question of employment is particularly interesting because under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act someone could have legally withheld a conviction for domestic violence from an employer . (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1974/53/section/5/enacted). If Clare’s law becomes permanent government policy and enshrined in law, we would have the absurd and dangerous situation of one law being potentially undermined by another.
There is also much scope for false accusations of domestic violence, both by spurned partners or third parties such as neighbours. Even if such an accusation does not result in a conviction or caution, the details would end up on a police or social service database and provide grounds for warning an applicant for details about a prospective partner that the person inquired about had been violent towards a partner or child. Those who imagine that malicious accusations or attempts at blackmail would be rare should keep a watch on the mainstream media and count the number of cases where women have attempted to blackmail men or have made false accusations or rape. You are unlikely to find a week which goes by without a court case for one or the other crime being reported ( for examples see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/6468036/Prison-inevitable-for-false-rape-claims.html# and http://www.laclawyers.com.au/document/Sports-and-the-Law-__-Famous-sports-people-are-often-the-target-of-blackmailers.aspx. ).
There will be some people who offer a serious risk of serious domestic violence , but there are many more people who offer a high risk of violence other than the domestic type or are likely to commit other serious non-violent crimes. They are rarely incarcerated for life. Society at large is left to accommodate them. If we can do that for rapists and murderers, it is perverse to say we cannot accommodate, without gross state intrusion into their personal lives, people who will often have displayed behaviour far less harmful.
Some interest groups which specialise in the protection of battered women have reacted against the scheme on the grounds that it will have little effect because most of those who experience domestic violence do not report it to the police or social services and, consequently, Clare’s Law might end up giving women a false sense of security if their inquiry resulted in giving someone a clean bill of health. This is probably true but it misses the profound objections, namely, the immensely authoritarian nature of the proposal and the opportunities it provides for blackmail, malicious accusations and politically correct jobsworths pushing the rules to absurd lengths as they try to show they are the most politically correct of beings.
What is likely to happen? In the immensely politically correct atmosphere of modern Britain it is more a less a certainty that it will become law after the trials are over. If it does it will be another nail in the coffin of English liberty and pile onto the police and social services a heavy and quite unnecessary extra burden.
The fact that the policy exists at all is down to a distraught family pressing for some means to make sense of and give meaning to a relative’s murder. That they should behave so is readily understandable. What is not acceptable is for private grief to be taken up by the mainstream media and politicians for their own politically correct authoritarian purposes. Private grief should not be used as a lever for authoritarian ideological policies to become law.