Monday, 5 March 2012

Claire's law - would you check out a potential partner?

The home office is expected to announce a trial in certain parts of England and Wales whereby people will gain the right to ask whether a partner has a history of domestic violence.

The scheme has been named Clare’s law, after Clare Wood, a woman who was murdered by an ex partner, whose father campaigned for the law to be changed.

Interestingly, domestic violence groups such as Refuge are against this, as they feel it will have little impact.

I can see why a parent might want to push for this if their daughter had been murdered, on the basis that if only she had known about his past, she might never have got into the relationship in the first place, and might therefore still be alive. But in reality, would she have known? Would she have checked?

It’s one thing to say that people have the option to check out a potential partner, it’s quite another to assume they would actually do so. Because apart from anything else, if you feel safe enough with someone that you would want to embark on a relationship with them, generally, it wouldn’t occur to most people to want to first ask the question as to whether they might have a criminal past. And it doesn’t exactly create a happy trusting atmosphere for the start of a new relationship if one partner decides they first want to ensure the other partner doesn’t have convictions for domestic violence before taking it any further.

I’ve heard people say they wouldn’t have a problem if someone wanted to look into their past as they have nothing to hide. But I think a lot more people would. I would and I have nothing to hide – no violent convictions or allegations. I have no issue with having to have a criminal records check as part of the requirements for working in a school in a voluntary capacity. I understand the need to be sure that people who work with children should be, to the best of their knowledge, safe to do so. However, a relationship is entirely different. Relationships are based on feelings and mutual respect, and while of course it doesn’t always work like that, and people do get into relationships with individuals who might have a past, or might have violent tendencies, as a rule, most people are not like that, and you cannot expect people to be happy with having the finger of suspicion pointed at them based on what other people may have done in their own pasts. And in truth, relationships have to be about feelings, and trust. If you feel you need to look into a potential partner’s background, then perhaps it is not unreasonable to think that you already have doubts, and should be basing your future on those rather than the outcome of a police check.

And possibly the more crucial point, is the fact that a police check only shows up those people who have actually been convicted of domestic violence. It won’t show those who have been violent but never been prosecuted. Scarily, many women are far too afraid to ever press charges against violent partners, and perhaps controversially (since most would assume this law should relate to men only) men who are victims of domestic violence are even less likely to press charges against a violent partner. So what would this law do for those people? In a word – nothing.

In truth we need to be looking more at police responses to domestic violence, ensuring that victims are taken seriously and that people feel safe to go to the police if they are at risk, rather than putting the onus on the potential victims to take responsibility and make judgements based on whether someone has been proven to be violent or not.

Clare Wood’s partner had a known violent past. However, there were no guarantees that she would have checked him out before getting involved with him. And there are no guarantees therefore that having had a law in place would have save Clare Wood’s life, or the lives of anyone else who is killed by a violent partner.


  1. Just to say that in my experience you can spend years living with someone and actually know them very little indeed...

  2. well as a mother of a 22yr old in a domestic violence relationship, i am not affraid to find out more but untill her mind set changes about him i know it is all in vain.