The Domestic Violence Disclosure: Should non-convictions be disclosable?
In recent years, the legal system has become more aware of domestic violence issues. In 2015, the Serious Crime Act introduced a law regarding controlling and coercive behaviour, making such mental abuse illegal in intimate or family relationships. It seems the legal system is finally attempting to step up when it comes to tackling the domestic abuse epidemic in the UK. But is there room for improvement within the existing laws?
Clare’s law, also known as The Domestic Abuse Disclosure Scheme, is a potentially life-saving law in England and Wales. Whereas criminal history records are normally protected from being disclosed to various people under the Data Protection Act 1998, this scheme allows for people to request to be informed by the police whether a partner has a history of domestic violence offences. This is on the basis that they have reason to be suspicious or concerned with how their partner is acting. This scheme enables people to discover early on whether or not the individual in question has violent tendencies and the enquirer can then adequately make a safe and informed decision about what steps to take.
Clare’s law was introduced in 2014 after the tragic death of Miss Clare Wood who was killed by her ex-boyfriend George Appleton. She was strangled and set on fire by the ex-partner in February 2009. Miss Wood had made numerous complaints against Appleton for harassment and attempted rape; however, she was tragically failed by the system. Miss Wood had been informed that Appleton had no more than motoring offences and her experiences were essentially brushed under the rug. Unbeknown to Miss Wood and her family, Appleton had a string of domestic violence offences. Miss Wood’s father believed that if she had known his history of violence towards women, she would have not had suffered the same fate.
Within the first 10 months of the scheme, over 1,300 disclosures were made. Under the current scheme, anybody can apply, including those in civil partnerships and same-sex relationships. Helpfully, family members and friends can also apply if they are concerned about someone else’s relationship. This scheme, although massively helpful, does have a single major flaw; it only discloses specific offences that the individual has actually been fully criminally convicted for.
There are many reasons as to why an individual will not be criminally prosecuted for a domestic violence offence, namely, many women do not continue to press charges due to fear, shame, or love for their abuser. They may recant their statements, or by the time they feel safe enough to press charges, the statute of limitation may have passed on crimes such as assault (which has a limit of 6 months within the date of the crime to report). Every minute police in the UK receive a domestic assistance call; however, only 35% of domestic violence incidents are actually reported.
In many cases, perpetrators will have a history of non-prosecuted incidents on their police record. However, since the conviction was incomplete, any individuals who may be concerned about their behaviour will be informed that they have no history of violence, potentially leading to a false sense of security for the victim, and leading them to remain with someone they had essentially deemed as ‘safe’.
Statistically, domestic violence has a higher rate of repeat victimisation than any other crime
. Therefore, it is very likely that an individual will continue to offend throughout his life. It is imperative that women (or men) are warned of a partner’s violent behaviour, and it is arguable that if an individual has good reason to be concerned, they should be warned of past incidents, whether or not they were prosecuted.
It may be argued that if an individual was not prosecuted, there is a chance they are innocent and therefore that information should not be disclosable. However, people can only receive a disclosure if the police deem that they have good reason, from their experiences, to be concerned. This usually involves some level of abusive or unacceptable behaviour. Reasonably, it would be necessary that the police made it clear to the individual that they were not prosecuted and have not been found guilty. It is also a rule of the disclosure scheme that you are not allowed to share the information you have discovered with any other individual, therefore there is no way that the individual could socially suffer if non-prosecuted incidents were discovered.
If an individual is showing signs of abusive behaviour, it is unlikely that their past recorded incidents were simply ‘misunderstandings’, and the balance of potential harm to the victim far outweigh any potential harm that a non-conviction disclosure could possibly cause. Domestic violence is an epidemic within the UK with an extremely high mortality rate. The government should continue to implement further laws and improve the current laws to protect those at risk. The consideration and discussion of disclosing non-convictions or late reports of abuse is potentially a step further towards improving and stomping out the far too frequent of domestic violence.