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Domestic Abuse: Clare’s Law

Volume 788: debated on Thursday 11 January 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to ensure that all police forces in England and Wales implement fully and consistently “Clare’s Law” on the right of a member of the public to request background checks on their partners in relation to domestic abuse.

My Lords, HMICFRS’s latest report, published last year, highlighted improvements in the police response to domestic abuse and identified continuing challenges, including variable use of the domestic violence disclosure scheme, also known as Clare’s law. The Home Secretary is driving improvements in the police response by ensuring that police leaders take action on HMICFRS’s findings by chairing a national oversight group. The Government will also publish a draft domestic abuse Bill to drive a transformation in how all agencies, including the police, respond to domestic abuse to afford better protection to victims and bring perpetrators to justice.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply, but is she aware that when Clare’s law was introduced in 2014 it was regarded as a potential life saver but it is not working as intended? It depends on what part of the country one lives, as disclosure rates vary enormously. It is patchy, to say the least, and this is just not good enough. Many police forces are just not promoting and advertising Clare’s law. If they did, it could not only save lives but offer protection against domestic abuse. Will the Minister agree to look at this matter to find out why the law is not working as intended and report her findings back to your Lordships’ House? I really hope that she will not find that it is as a result of cuts in the police service. Some people working in the police service are saying that they do not have the resources to do this work.

The noble Baroness highlights an important point. She is absolutely right to raise it and that is why, in my initial Answer, I said that the Home Secretary sees this as so important that she chairs the oversight group to review the progress being made in this area. The noble Baroness is right that we need consistency across police forces in tackling this issue. The new licence to practise will ensure that police officers have the skills they need to tackle this type of abuse—something they have perhaps not been sufficiently trained in previously.

My Lords, the implementation of Clare’s law in this country is a postcode lottery, as the noble Baroness pointed out. This is totally unacceptable when two women a week are killed by their partners or ex-partners. What is being done to ensure that the public always receive an answer to their requests, and to make them aware of Clare’s law and their right to make such a request?

I think my Answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, answered that question, but the noble Baroness is absolutely right to point out that unless victims of domestic violence know of the existence of both the right to know, from the victim’s point of view, and the right to ask, the system will not work properly. The guidance to police has recently been updated to clarify what the police’s powers of disclosure actually are.

My Lords, does the Minister recall that Her Majesty’s Inspectorate recently published a report on the failure of the Metropolitan Police to respond appropriately to a very large number of cases in which children were seriously at risk? I assume that some of these children were the kind of children we are talking about this morning. Can she say what action is being taken?

The noble Lord is absolutely right to raise this point because, of course, the effect on children of even one incident of domestic violence can be lifelong and change their whole psyche. That is why the new domestic abuse Bill will look not only at victims of domestic violence, but at the effect domestic violence has on children.

My Lords, the Minister will know that in the last month we have seen the sentencing of a man who killed his third partner. He threw his first partner off a veranda on the ninth floor of a multi-storey building. He pleaded guilty on the grounds of provocation, was sentenced and released after nine years. He killed a second partner and invoked diminished responsibility manslaughter, and was placed in a secure hospital from which he was released after two years. He was thirdly convicted of attacking a partner with a claw hammer and then strangling her with the cord of a dressing gown. How can it be that someone is released after two years in a secure hospital and there been no oversight of his position in society?

At the moment there are requirements—often made by judges—that such people notify the police if they enter into new relationships. That involves self-referral. It is rather a silly idea that someone is going to notify the police when they embark on another relationship. Such oversight is essential, particularly in the circumstances of homicide and particularly given, as the noble Baroness mentioned, that two women a week are killed by their partners. The majority of deaths of women are at the hands of partners. Are we going to have an integrated system to make sure that there is oversight, particularly in homicide cases?

There are several questions there but I shall attempt to answer them all. The noble Baroness is absolutely right to highlight the issue of multiple instances of domestic violence, where the perpetrator may go on to commit still more violence against women. The domestic abuse Bill will certainly look at sentencing. There is also the whole issue of the right not only to know but to ask. It is incumbent on the police to deliver the right to know. That is why the Government have placed such emphasis on domestic violence and how it affects all sections of society. It affects health, particularly mental health, and we are absolutely determined to tackle it. The noble Baroness is not wrong in saying that we need to tackle it from both a legislative and a non-legislative point of view, and that is precisely what we are doing.