A controversial law allowing women to find out about their partner’s previous convictions is being considered in Parliament. “Clare’s Law” plans to be adopted if successful, after Clare Wood, a 36-year old mother was horrifically killed by a man she met on Facebook. Perhaps in hindsight, Ms Wood may still be alive today with knowledge of George Appleton’s long list of violent convictions; but we need to consider whether this really is a viable way of reducing domestic violence.
The unfortunate reality is that two women die a week from domestic violence in the UK. Clearly action is needed to reduce this alarming figure, but will “Clare’s Law” fare similar to “Sarah’s Law?” After the murder of eight-year old Sarah Payne in July 2000, a campaign ensued for the government to allow controlled access to the Sex Offenders Register, so parents with young children could know if a child sex-offender was living in their area.
Director of policy for Liberty, Isabella Sankey has labelled the “Right to know” national disclosure scheme as “dangerously counterproductive.” The flipside is that due to mistaken identity, innocent residents had “bricks through their windows,” thanks to the media hype that followed. However, where victims of domestic violence are being massively failed, is that nothing has been done to ensure the safety of women, in order to be ‘politically correct.’
Ms. Wood had first called the police in October 2008 when Appleton damaged her front door and threatened her with an iron. Following her death, the Independent Police Complaints Commission ruled that she had been let down by the officers that she had primarily approached. According to Home Office Research by Jessica Harris, the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, the suspect and victim were known to each other in almost all cases (only 2% of suspects were strangers to the victim). Suspects were usually partners, ex-partners or relatives (41% of cases), acquaintances (41%) or neighbours (16%).
Thirty-nine per cent of harassment cases were dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service, compared with the national average for all offences of fourteen per cent. The main issue here is that out of the thousands of women who have come forward and complained about harassment by ex-partners, many were not taken seriously and are still in real danger despite having all the information. The scheme in this case, is only effective if action is taken and not just printed down in legislation.
Women leaving their violent partner led to the cessation of the domestic violence for the majority (63%) of women, for a significant minority (18%) it continued in another form, such as stalking or harassment. The Guardian reported that prosecutors estimate that around 1 million people in the UK have experienced stalking, but only a few hundred of these cases have been prosecuted through the courts.
The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 does not define stalking, nor is a definition set out in case law. The Act is said only to be able to deal effectively with harassment, which is different in many respects to stalking. Thus, police have tended not to take action on stalking claims despite an endemic amount of cases resulting in fatalities. Critics call for a new law that recognises stalking as a distinct criminal offence, with appropriate penalties.
And that is the clincher. Will having the knowledge of a person’s past really make a difference when it comes to action by either the partner or more importantly the justice system? The scheme in theory may seem like a good plan in tackling one of the most heinous crimes that women face, but unless there are adequate measures that protect individuals and not just tip-toe around the perpetrators; the proposal seems like it will fall onto deaf ears.