A twelve week consultation began on Tuesday over the proposed legislation that would give women the right to know whether a new partner has a history of domestic violence. This follows a campaign by the father of Clare Wood, a 36-year-old mother who was strangled and set alight by her abusive boyfriend. Unknown to her, George Appleton had three convictions under the Protection from Harassment Act 1987 and had previously kidnapped an ex-girlfriend at knifepoint.
Home secretary Theresa May has announced she wants to prevent a similar case reoccurring by introducing ‘Clare’s Law’, modelled on ‘Sarah’s Law’ which gives parents in England the right to investigate the background of any adults who come into frequent contact with their children, and prevented around 60 potential incidents of abuse in its trial period alone. May added that ending violence against women and girls is a priority for the government.
Advocates of a national domestic violence disclosure scheme hope that it will act to empower women when getting involved with a new partner. Michael Brown, Clare’s father, feels that her life could have been spared under the proposed law- “She was an astute young lady and had she known what he was capable of, I think she would have beat a hasty retreat”.
“The administration of the law could put pressure on the police, adding to an increasing workload, and potentially jeopardise civil liberties”
The implementation of the legislation will be considered during the Home Office consultation, with ‘Right to Know’ and ‘Right to Ask’ schemes being discussed. The former will involve giving the police powers to approach the partners of past-offenders and actively offer the information, with it only being disclosed upon request under the latter.
Critics argue that with either system, the administration will fall to the police, adding to an increasing workload in a period of cuts to the force.
Other criticisms assert that the legislation would jeopardise civil liberties, with many Conservative back-benchers, including MP Robert Buckland, concerned that there would need to be strict controls to protect privacy. He said “We’re all in favour of curbing violence against women but we have to be certain this will not lead to fishing expeditions by women demanding confidential information about potential boyfriends without proper justification”.
Although the protection of women is emphasised in the proposals, the law would also apply to men and same-sex couples.
Whether this has been made explicit enough is dubious, with concerns being raised about the exclusion of male victims of domestic violence from the headline statements of the proposal, potentially exacerbating the stigma surrounding the issue that so often leaves men feeling unable to speak out against their female abusers.
While May’s aims to protect women are admirable, many feel this attitude isn’t being applied to all policy areas after the report earlier this year that the government’s programme of cuts has hit the female population disproportionately hard, with unemployment in women rising at a much higher rate than in men.
However, it’s undeniable that the new legislation would be a huge step forward in the prevention of domestic violence and a concrete acceptance of the seriousness of the crime.