A recent analysis by the Observer has brought to light significant inconsistencies in how Clare’s law is applied by police forces in England and Wales, potentially exposing individuals to heightened risks of domestic abuse.
Clare’s law, formally known as the domestic violence disclosure scheme, enables individuals to request information about the violent history of a partner or ex-partner.
Disclosure discrepancies among forces revealed
The investigation revealed repeated inconsistencies in the implementation of Clare's law, with some forces supplying information in up to 75% of cases, while otheres rejected almost all requests.
Essex police had the lowest disclosure rate, providing information in only 5% of the 1,940 Clare’s law applications received in the two years leading up to March 2023.
Additionally, six other forces reported disclosure rates below 30%, contributing to an overall decline in disclosure from 47.9% in 2019 to 38.5% in the year to March 2023.
Nicole Jacobs, the domestic abuse commissioner for England and Wales, expressed serious concern about the variation in disclosure between forces, saying that opportunities to protect victims were being missed.
She emphasised the potential life-saving nature of the information provided under Clare’s law but warned that rejected or poorly conducted applications could provide a false sense of security, further endangering victims.
The analysis also highlighted warnings from His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to three forces - Thames Valley, Merseyside, and Durham - over issues such as resourcing problems and long delays. Merseyside, in particular, took up to 90 days to disclose information in a Clare’s law request, well beyond the 28-day limit.
Wiltshire police, another force under scrutiny, has referred itself to the Independent Office for Police Conduct and is reviewing 3,500 Clare’s law applications dating back to 2015 after failing to disclose information that could have protected individuals at risk from domestic violence.
Factors contributing to discrepancies
Clare’s law includes the “right to ask” and the “right to know.”
The right to ask means that victims and potential victims of domestic abuse (and their friends and families) can request information about an individual. The right to know means police can proactively disclose information to protect a potential victim.
However, before releasing information on convictions or allegations which may not already be in the public domain, police should be sure that:
The request is genuine and not malicious;
There is a pressing need for disclosure;
Disclosure is necessary to protect a person from being a victim of a crime;
The impact on the perpetrators’ rights is necessary and proportionate.
The interpretation of the above could be a reason for discrepancies between different disclosure rates. For example, one force may apply a different standard when assessing whether an application meets the threshold.
Response from the police
Police forces identified in the analysis have taken steps to improve disclosure rates, with Essex police launching an extensive review of their response to domestic abuse and Thames Valley police acknowledging the need for improvement.
The Home Office recently announced plans to put the guidance on which Clare’s law is based into statute, aiming to strengthen the visibility and consistent operation of the domestic violence disclosure scheme.
While improvements have been made since the launch of Clare’s law in 2014, there is a collective call for continued efforts to ensure consistent service across all forces. The analysis underscores the urgency for all police forces to review and enhance their implementation of Clare’s law, ensuring that individuals seeking protection from potential abusers receive a consistent and effective service nationwide.