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Fronts in the campaign against domestic abuse

It is hard not to sympathise with the family of Clare Wood, who was brutally murdered by a violent partner.

The 36-year-old mother did not know when she embarked on a relationship with George Appleton that he had a history of violence against women and had twice served prison sentences for harassing girlfriends.

Not only did she not know; she had no right to know. Her relatives feel that knowledge could have saved her life.

The Disclosure Scheme for Domestic Abuse - also known as Clare's Law - is to be piloted in Aberdeen and Ayrshire, in a bid to prevent such crimes. It will give women like Clare the right to check out the history of new partners, or allow those close to them to do so if they have concerns.

Already tested in four areas of England, the scheme is broadly welcome in Scotland. The Aberdeen and Ayrshire pilots will explore whether it can work here.

There is no reason to think it will not, but there will have to be clear safeguards. Information sought could be about convictions but also about other behaviour which might lead to concerns about a threat to a woman - or man - from a potentially violent partner. Making information about a person public which may not have been proven in the courts presents clear concerns. There must also be clarity about who is entitled to seek information.

In England, the safeguards have included a panel on which police, prison services and social services are represented, which decides what information should be revealed, and to whom. Past concerns about a person's behaviour can be revealed not just to someone entering a relationship with them, but to anyone close to those who may be at risk, such as a friend or relative. The panel decides this too, based on who is "the person most likely to protect the victim".

A balance is clearly needed between bureaucracy and the need for speed in situations where someone will be at risk. Under the English schemes, a request can take up to 35 days to resolve. But police can choose to reveal information themselves and act immediately if they think someone needs to be protected from harm.

There must be doubt about who will seek this information, and how helpful it will be. Many offenders have no history with the authorities, and those who really need the information may not be those who seek it.

If the disclosure scheme can prevent one death like that of Clare Wood, supporters will say it is worth it and that is surely true. But it is not a panacea, or a replacement for simple vigilance and support offered by caring friends and relatives.

Projects such as the Caledonian System, which works to change the behaviour of abusive men and through which the announcement of the new scheme was made, may have a more lasting impact.

It is difficult to escape the feeling that, while Clare's Law is another tool in the armoury to protect people against violent partners, it is somewhat tangential, and should not soak up too much of the £34.5 million the Scottish Government has set aside to tackle domestic abuse.

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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