‘Clare’s Law is available but it needs to be more user-friendly’

Clare’s Law could be speeded up by the introduction of a new Domestic Abuse Bill, claims a specialist family lawyer.

Thursday, 15th August 2019, 2:45 pm
Updated Thursday, 15th August 2019, 3:45 pm
Rosie Darbyshire

Jennifer Curtis, a partner at Maguire Family Law which covers the North West area, said the Bill, would mean all police forces across the country would be working to the same set of guidelines.

The Bill, which has had its first hearing in Parliament this summer, has been touted as “the most comprehensive package ever presented to Parliament” to deal with domestic abuse, both supporting victims and bringing perpetrators to justice.

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Rosie Darbyshire asked police about her partner's violent past only days before ...

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Rosie Darbyshire

Currently Clare’s Law is a set of guidelines, not a piece of legislation, and the police are currently under no obligation to disclose information. Therefore, how it works in practice can be completely different across different forces and there is the potential for police officers to simply have no idea what it is.

Here's how to Sign Up To Save Lives in memory of Preston mum Rosie DarbyshireIf the Bill is passed, every force would have the same framework and expectations.

Jennifer said: “When you type ‘Clare’s Law’ into Google, you literally get every police force’s website in the country with their own page and their definition.

“Where do people start knowing what is the most useful information?

“We need to make it more cohesive, more centralised. The more structure and confidence the police has from centralised guidance, the quicker they can act on it.

“For instance, it might be that having guidance that if it’s a Category Four offence committed within the last 12 months, then it has to be dealt with in such a way within such a time.”

Single mum Rosie Darbyshire from Ribbleton made a Clare’s Law application about her boyfriend Ben Topping 11 days before he murdered her.

She never received a disclosure about his violent past before her death, and now her family want to speed up the disclosure process as “the only positive that we can try and achieve from this”.

Currently, forces throughout the country have 35 days to respond to an application.

The Post has worked with Rosie’s family to launch a petition, calling on the Home Office to review the following:

• A reduction in the 35-day timescale for applications to be resolved

• A 48-hour callback from the police to update the applicant on the process after first contact

• A national database containing details of people charged with or convicted of violent offences

• A publicity campaign on what Clare’s Law is and how to apply

Jennifer agreed that work was needed to speed up the process “but in a way that doesn’t rush the outcome”, and agreed a call-back option within the first few days would be useful for applicants.

She said: “I think it would be helpful to have an acknowledgement, the applicants need to feel supported and what to expect.

“It is also good to know that you’ve filled the boxes in correctly and the police have everything they need to do the checks, such as aliases.

“But there does need to be a box where you fill out how you would want to be contacted. That could be a phone call to a sister or a close friend who is trusted to relay the news.”

However, she raised some concerns about the idea of a national database containing details of violent crimes.

Jennifer said: “There needs to be a balance between need to protect someone and data protection.

“Violence is such broad range of behaviour as well, it’s not as black and white as an ANPR check on a car to see whether it has an MOT certifate or not.

“We see it where fathers come to us worried that a scuffle he had on a stag do as a 19-year-old will count against him in a family court, when he is now a 40-year-old businessman. It’s not clear-cut.”

She added: “But this is all coming from the right place and it’s good to talk about Clare’s Law.

“We see the impact of people understanding disclosures in our work. There was one woman whose partner told her he had convictions for a few minor offences, but the disclosure revealed he had 31 convictions for 80 different offences over sustained number of years.

“This was in the context of children’s proceedings, but it helped the woman realise some fundamental issues.

“The fact that Clare’s Law is available is great, but it needs to be more user-friendly.”