West Midlands use of Clare’s law is among the lowest in England

Domestic violence - Ella Paton, Viewfinder Studios

Domestic violence – Ella Paton, Viewfinder Studios

 

The use of a law intended to protect the potential victim of domestic violence in West Midlands is still low compared to other regions in England. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that the number of applications asking their partner’s criminal crime record to West Midlands Police is among the 10 lowest in England.

From January until June last year, there were only 46 right to ask applications and 101 right to know applications to the force. Those two rights are the elements of Clare’s Law.

Clare’s Law is also known as the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme. The scheme was named after Clare Wood, a woman who was murdered by an ex-boyfriend in 2009. It was introduced in March 2014 following lobbying from Michael Brown, Clare’s father.

The scheme can protect man or woman by disclosing information about the partner if there are concerns about him or her being violent. It has two elements, the right to ask, where a person can request info on their partner’s past, and right to know where police or authorities make a proactive decision to tell someone about their partner’s past.

In every 100,000 people in West Midlands, there were only 1.6 right to ask and 3.5 right to know applications, the lowest among 33 police forces in England who made the information available.

The highest per capita number of using this scheme is in Suffolk Police. It has 66.2 applications per 100,000 people in total with 7.2 for the right to ask applications and 58.6 for the right to know.  

When asked about why the application in their area is lower than many areas with the smaller population, West Midlands Police didn’t give a direct answer.

Instead, they said: “If anyone suspects their partner is hiding a domestic abuse past then they have the right to ask under Clare’s Law, for police to provide relevant information on that person’s history. We will consider whether disclosing that information is lawful, necessary and proportionate before releasing it,” said Temporary Detective Superintendent Sally Holmes, from the force’s Public Protection Unit in West Midlands, Monday (8 January 2018).

Michael Brown, the father of Clare Wood told the Bureau that he was “very disappointed” to hear that some police forces aren’t using the scheme the way they should.

“We didn’t run around for five years to get the law in place just for it to be ignored,” he said. “Why there hasn’t been more take up I don’t know, maybe it is a lack of staff, but it seems like some police forces just don’t put domestic violence high up on the list.” 

Retired detective superintendent Phil Owen was one of the driving forces behind Clare’s Law. A former officer in the Greater Manchester Police, Owens is now responsible for helping train police forces across the country on the use of the disclosure scheme, but he says he notices big differences in the rate at which forces disclose information. “We saw that right from the start of the pilot,” Owens told the Bureau.

He said that the decision to disclose isn’t made by the officer on the ground. The officer identifies the opportunity that exists, and then refer it up to senior officers.

“So, it needs senior officer oversight, decision making. At GMP we were ‘lawfully audacious’, meaning if ever there were some concerns we would disclose information. We’d rather face investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office than face an inquest. But some forces are more cautious,” he said.

Overall, there is a wide discrepancy in the rate at which forces disclose information, with rates ranging from 7% to 76% for right to ask and 3% to 98% for right to know.

 

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