What Is The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (Clare's Law)?

sarah ryan
Sarah RyanAccount Manager @ Lawhive & Non-Practising Solicitor
Updated on 8th January 2024

The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS), also known as “Clare’s Law,” allows the police to share information with a victim or potential victim of domestic abuse about their partner’s or ex-partner’s past abusive or violent behaviour. 

It also allows individuals to formally request information about a romantic partner’s criminal history from the police.

clares-law-dvds

Clare’s Law was rolled out to all police forces in England and Wales in March 2014. 

The scheme is made up of two components: 

  1. The Right to Ask 

  2. The Right to Know 

What is the Right to Ask? 

The Right to Ask under Clare’s Law allows individuals or relevant third parties (such as family members) to request the police to check if a current or former partner has a history of violence or abuse.

If records indicate a potential risk of domestic abuse, the police will consider disclosing this information

What is the Right to Know? 

The Right To Know empowers the police to initiate a disclosure if they receive information about a person’s violent or abusive behavior that could endanger the safety of their current or former partner.

This information might come from a criminal investigation, statutory or third-sector agency involvement, or other police intelligence sources. 

How to make a request under Clare’s Law 

To request information under Clare’s Law, you can complete the process online, over the phone, or by visiting a police station.

The online application form is available on each police force’s website. It requires information like your name, date of birth, address, and contact number. 

Usually, the police will arrange a face-to-face meeting to get more information about your relationship and verify your application’s authenticity. During this meeting, you’ll need to provide identification. 

Following the meeting, the police will work with other agencies to review and assess the information. If a history of abusive behaviour or a risk of violence is found, they may disclose this information to you in person.

Before disclosure, you’ll be asked to sign an agreement that makes sure the information is used appropriately and not shared further. 

When can the police disclose information under Clare’s Law? 

For the police to share information under Clare’s Law, must be considered lawful, proportionate, and necessary.

It must also be based on their usual powers to prevent crime and the disclosure must follow laws around data protection and human rights. It should be fair and reasonable, grounded in a real risk of violence or harm. 

In short, the police decide if disclosing a partner’s confidential records is appropriate based on the potential risk. 

If police choose to disclose information under Clare’s law, it will be directly to the applicant in most cases. Or if someone has applied on behalf of a friend or relative, the police may choose to share directly with them if they think it’s appropriate. 

If there’s no threat or the person is not known to the police, they may not disclose any information.

Why is Clare’s Law necessary?

Even though the police already have the power to disclose information under common law to prevent further crimes, the DVDS offers a specific and clear process for handling such disclosures in cases of domestic abuse. 

Clare’s Law is named after Clare Wood, who tragically lost her life at the hands of her ex-boyfriend, George Appleton in 2009. Clare met Appleton on Facebook without knowing about his criminal history. When their relationship turned coercive after six months, Clare ended the relationship. However, despite her efforts, Appleton continued to harass and threaten her, ending with her death and his suicide. 

In the past, a legal loophole allowed individuals with a history of domestic abuse to keep their records confidential, putting their partners at a higher risk of harm as they remained unaware of past offenses.

Investigations revealed George Appleton’s violent history, which was known to the police but not disclosed to Clare due to data protection laws. Clare’s father, Michael Brown, campaigned for change, which led to the introduction of the DVDS in 2014 in England and Wales. 

Does Clare’s Law put people at greater risk? 

Leaving a relationship can be dangerous for many, particularly women leaving an abusive relationship. The Femicide Census reports that 38% of women killed by their ex-partner between 2009 and 2018 were killed within the first month of separation, and 89% within the first year. 

To mitigate this, the guidance for the DVDS goes to great lengths to emphasise that any disclosure must be accompanied by a strong safety plan that is personalised to the needs of the victim and based on all relevant information. 

What’s more, the police will not disclose any request to whom the disclosure relates, nor do they need their views or consent. Therefore, a partner is unlikely to find out if a request or disclosure was made.  

Clare’s Law and The Domestic Abuse Act 2021

The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 received Royal Assent on 29th April 2021. Described as the most comprehensive package ever, the Act introduced the first statutory government definition of 'Domestic Abuse' and gave Clare's Law a statutory footing, guaranteeing victims the right to check their partner’s offending history, not just at the police’s discretion.

Does the DVDS infringe on people’s civil liberties? 

Before disclosing under Clare’s law, the police must be sure that it is necessary to prevent a crime, there is a pressing need for disclosure, and interference with the perpetrator’s right is necessary and proportionate for the prevention of crime. 

Therefore, each case is considered on an individual basis, and legal advice can be sought from the police if needed. 

What is defined as domestic abuse in DVDS applications? 

Abuse goes beyond physical harm and can involve various forms such as harassment, verbal abuse, stalking, psychological threats, manipulation, sexual assault, and violent behaviour. 

Domestic abuse includes controlling and coercive, threatening, degrading, and violent behaviour, covering psychological and emotional abuse, physical and sexual abuse, financial or economic abuse, harassment, stalking, and online or digital abuse. 

Police consider these definitions when deciding what information to disclose in a DVDS application. 

How successful is Clare’s Law? 

In the year ending March 2020, there were 8,951 ‘right to know’ applications in England and Wales. 52% of those applications resulted in disclosure. Additionally, there were 11,556 ‘right to ask’ applications and 37% of them led to disclosure. 

That being said, in January 2024 an analysis by the Observer found that there were dramatic differences in the implementation of Clare’s law, with some forces supplying information in up to 75% of cases, while others rejected almost all requests. Out of 43 forces, Essex police were named as one that proportionally shared information the least, disclosing information for only 5% of applications in the two years to March 2023. 

While Clare’s Law has proven to be a well-intentioned initiative to provide new partners with essential information that empowers them to make informed decisions about their relationships, it’s clear that until now there have been inconsistencies in the interpretation of the law and consistency between police forces. 

In response to this, the guidance for the DVDS is being made into law, ensuring that the police follow them and consistently apply them to the scheme.

How does Della’s Law strengthen Clare’s Law? 

Della’s law, named after survivor Della Wright, addresses a significant loophole in Clare’s law where sex offenders could easily change their names, erasing their criminal past and avoiding detection. 

Working together, both laws will ensure that searches offer a more accurate and comprehensive history of potential partners, enhancing protections for those at risk of domestic violence. 

Can you tell anyone about disclosures under Clare’s Law? 

Under the Data Protection Act 2018, it is an offence to knowingly or recklessly obtain or disclose personal data without the consent of the data controller. In disclosures through the DVDS, the police are the data controller and, as such, they can stop anyone from discussing information with someone else. 

Generally, if disclosure happens, it must be kept confidential, and the information should not be shared with anyone. 

Can the police disclose information about a partner if you don’t make an application?

Under Clare's law, anyone who is concerned about your safety or well-being can make an application. In these situations, even if you have not requested it, the police may disclose information to you to protect you from domestic abuse and/or violence

How can a lawyer help protect you from an abusive partner? 

If you are at risk of harm from a partner, our family law solicitors can help you get a protective order for yourself and any children involved. 

Non-molestation order

A common form of protection offered by the family courts is a non-molestation order, which aims to stop your partner from harming or threatening you. You can apply for this injunction without notice, meaning an abusive partner won’t be aware of the application until it’s served, and a non-molestation order can last indefinitely, for a specific period, or until another court order is made. 

Domestic Violence Protection Order

The police can also apply for a Domestic Violence Protection Order, which prevents your abusive partner from contacting or approaching you if the police determine you have suffered domestic violence. 

Prohibited Steps Order

Where children are involved, a concerned parent may seek to safeguard their children from an abusive partner. This can be achieved through a prohibited steps order, which restricts the abusive partner from removing the children from your care. 

Occupation Order

If you’ve suffered domestic abuse, and the issue of housing arises, it may be possible to obtain an occupation order that determines who can live in the family home or enter the surrounding area. 

In short, there are legal options available to victims of domestic abuse who are seeking to escape an abusive partner. For more information, please get a free case assessment from our team.

If you are worried someone might see you've visited this page, Women's Aid provides practical tips to help you cover your tracks online.

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