Clare Wood met George Appleton online in 2007. In their relationship, she was subjected to repeated, horrific physical and sexual violence. She ended the relationship, but Appleton continued to harrass her and ultimately murdered her in 2009. Appleton had a history of violence towards women, which the Police were well aware of. Michael Brown argues, supported by his local MP Hazel Blears and the Victims' Commissioner Louise Casey, that the Police should have been able to tell Clare about Appleton's violent past. Then she would have been able to make an informed choice about whether to continue with the relationship.
On the face of it, this sounds like a good idea. Any woman, particularly if they have children, is bound to be wary of allowing a new person into their lives. Developing an intimate relationship with a complete stranger always has its risks, but this would be a great way of minimising them, right? It would keep more people safe.
Except, imagine if you meet this really cute, sweet, kind guy. He's baby faced, looks like he wouldn't hurt a fly. You go to the Police. They tell you that he was in and out of their cells because he'd beaten up his last partner. By this time it may well be too late. You may already be into deep with this guy. He may have told you already about his evil ex partner and how she doesn't let him see his kids and how she had affairs all over the shop and wrongly accused him of beating her up when, in fact, it was the other way around. He might have told you about how unfair it was that he'd been put in the cells, how the Police had got it all so wrong, how the law is totally stacked in favour of the woman, who is free to make all sorts of false accusations with impunity. You may well have read something in the Daily Mail that makes all this sound plausible. And he really seems genuine. And you really are falling for him. What do you do?
One of the key skills of perpetrators of domestic abuse is the ability to manipulate and control their victims. Making this information available isn't necessarily going to stop new abusive relationships being formed. By the time the victims realise that the Police were right all along, they're in too deep and don't always seen an escape route.
And what happens if both parties to a new relationship discover that each has previous issues with domestic abuse - and often abusers accuse their victim to escape justice themselves. You can see that this is not quite as clean cut as it looks.
Hazel Blears writes on Labour List why she thinks this is a vital step.
Women in Clare's position rarely know that they are at risk from men like Appleton. Despite his record of systematic domestic violence against different women she had no way of knowing that he posed such a threat. Information about his violent and vicious past was known to the authorities but she was left in the dark.
We need to change the law to give women like Clare the right to know of the threat that they face. It's important to stress that this change would also give men the right to know - we want to tackle serial perpetrators of domestic violence regardless of gender.I tend to instinctively have more sympathy with family law barrister Lucy Reed's article in last Friday's Guardian. She argues that:
I think that maybe the issue I have with it is that it's yet another solution that puts the responsibility on the person entering the relationship to protect themselves rather than highlighting that abusively violent behaviour within a relationship is simply not acceptable. Don't get me wrong, I do think it's important that people grow up learning to recognise and achieve healthy dynamics in their personal relationships, but there needs to be a strong emphasis that violence and abuse are wrong and those who perpetrate it are never, ever justified. Society needs to show, in a much stronger way than it currently does, that it does not tolerate abusive behaviour within relationships. The conviction rates are embarrassingly low given that 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence and there's much more cultural acceptance, or turning a blind eye, than we would like to admit.
I think Clare's Law is the wrong approach, even as part of a wider ranging strategy to tackle domestic violence. I'm just not sure it will save lives and may even make the situation worse.