Clare’s Law was launched nationally in England and Wales on 8th March 2014 to coincide with International Women’s Day. Clare’s Law is not a change in the law as the name suggests but a change in process and procedure, allowing people to request a disclosure about a partners’ potential offending history of domestic abuse.
However domestic abuse is not currently a crime in this country so partners who may have previous convictions for family violence will have been convicted for other related offences such as harassment, breach of restraining orders (as in the case of Clare Wood), battery, sexual abuse and rape. Those who have offences for harassment may well have stalked their victims, but so far the conviction rate for stalking under the new law (introduced on 25th November 2012) is still low.
In addition to this the data of domestic abuse offending is largely absent from criminal records due to the lack of conviction rates of perpetrators. In many cases abuse is unrecognised in relationships and often consists of emotional and psychological abuse, which is more difficult to identify and therefore more often than not goes unreported. Last week it was highlighted on BBC Newsnight the significant variation in prosecutions for domestic abuse across England and Wales by the CPS; in one area prosecutions were as low 3.5%. This means that the majority of those arrested walk free from custody leaving victims at considerable risk of serious harm and even murder.
Victims clearly do not feel protected by the police or the current systems in place and all too often the human rights of perpetrators outweigh the rights of the victims and the impact on their families. The way the system currently works mirrors the abuse that it is meant to protect from. Victims are often expected to move away, which leads to further isolation, financial hardship and vulnerability, with little or no support in the process.
And there must be systems in place to support victims who chose to leave relationships on potentially receiving a positive disclosure of domestic abuse. Are the police and support agencies equipped to protect those at the point of separation, which puts victims at a much higher risk of violence and where the perpetrator may perceive loss of control and take extreme steps in an attempt to regain it?
All of the above highlights the complexities of domestic abuse and the difficulties in tackling what should be a crime in law. There is clearly much more work to be done, changing and challenging attitudes in society, the police and Government. Whilst Clare’s Law is not going to be a fix-all solution it is already going someway to raising awareness and opening a gateway for those who have concerns about current intimate relationships. (Sam Taylor 2014)