Clare’s Law ‘not being used effectively’

The daughter of Clare Wood, who was tragically murdered by her ex-partner in 2009, expresses fear that lives are at risk due to the inefficient handling of Clare’s Law.

The law, officially known as the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, allows individuals to inquire about their partner’s abusive history. However, a recent BBC investigation reveals prolonged delays in responses to background check requests, with some waiting for hundreds of days.

Introduced a decade ago after Clare Wood’s death, Clare’s Law aims to empower individuals to seek information on potential risks in their relationships. Maddy Wood, Clare’s daughter, emphasises the critical importance of the law and expresses concern that its poor execution by police forces might lead to more tragic outcomes.

The investigation found instances where applicants waited far beyond the expected 28 days for responses, raising serious concerns about the system’s effectiveness. Maddy Wood worries that this delay could contribute to further loss of lives, and the Domestic Abuse Commissioner notes that opportunities to protect victims are being missed.

Clare’s Law received 45,344 applications in England and Wales in 2022-23, a significant increase over five years. However, the BBC’s Freedom of Information requests revealed that several police forces took longer than the mandated 28-day period to respond, with some even exceeding a year. The rejection rate for information under Clare’s Law increased from 48% in 2018-19 to 38% in 2022-23.

Maddy Wood criticises the underutilisation of Clare’s Law and stresses the need for police forces to meet the demand promptly. The Domestic Abuse Commissioner calls for strong leadership and national consistency in addressing domestic abuse through Clare’s Law.

Individuals who received disclosures under Clare’s Law also report discomfort with the process, indicating that police responses may need improvement to ensure a supportive and effective application of the legislation.

In response to the concerns, the National Police Chiefs’ Council acknowledges there is “more to do” to protect those at risk of abuse. The spotlight on delays and inefficiencies in Clare’s Law prompts a call for urgent action to address shortcomings and safeguard individuals from potential harm. Jess Eagelton, Head of Policy, Public Affairs and Research at Refuge said:

“Refuge sends our support and praise to Maddy Wood today for the vital work she has done in honour of her mum, Clare. In the 10 years since the introduction of Clare’s Law, the prevalence of domestic abuse and domestic homicide has remained high. While initiatives like Clare’s Law, which aim to protect women from abusers, are welcome, without adequate funding for and commitment to properly implement these schemes, they amount to little more than lip service to women’s safety. 

Clare’s Law is intended to reduce intimate partner violence by disclosing a perpetrator’s history of abuse, yet there is a danger that this scheme can create a false sense of security, when vital information is withheld or overlooked. Clare’s Law is not a silver bullet for addressing domestic abuse. The majority of perpetrators do not have a criminal record, but still pose a significant risk of harm to women. 

The application of Clare’s Law remains patchy and disjointed due to wide-ranging inconsistency in police implementation, including long waiting times and police declining applications, making it a postcode lottery whether the police force will carry through a Clare’s Law request, or not. The devastating consequences of police’s failure to consistently implement Clare’s Law cannot be understated – as we saw recently in Wiltshire where a ‘catastrophic service failure’ led to three people being harmed due to a litany of failures on Clare’s Law. 

As the recent Angiolini Inquiry has highlighted, an endemic culture of misogyny pervades the police, and we are concerned that the requests women make under Clare’s Law are not being taken seriously because of this. Far too often we hear from survivors who have their concerns downplayed, trivialised or altogether dismissed. Between October 2021 and March 2022, over 10,000 (56% of) criminal background requests made under Clare’s Law were denied, according to data from the National Police Chiefs’ Council.  

Women’s safety ought to be a national priority for the police and for the Government. For women to feel safe, the Government must make essential funding commitments for vital domestic abuse services. It is deeply disappointing to see from the Spring Budget that the Government isn’t prepared to make the financial investment necessary to make this a reality. Ahead of International Women’s Day on Friday, it is devastating that women are yet again being overlooked.” 

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