Domestic Violence: Should NSW Take a Tougher Stance?

There has been a strong focus in Australia recently on raising awareness of and preventing domestic violence.

The Chief Executive of Domestic Violence NSW, Tracy Howe, has stated that domestic violence is the leading cause of death and injury in Australian women under the age of 45. She has referred to domestic violence as an ‘epidemic’ and ‘national emergency’.

Over the last year, the government has been rolling out a number of different initiatives aimed at curbing domestic violence, from changes to the process of getting an AVO in NSW to special cameras worn by police officers when attending suspected domestic violence incidents.

Domestic violence as a national issue is not just restricted to Australia. In the UK there have also been a number of different police initiatives aimed at decreasing the incidence of domestic violence, and providing more support for those who are on the receiving end. One recent initiative, which has reportedly had positive results in the UK, is Clare’s Law.

What is Clare’s Law?

Clare’s law was introduced in the UK last year after a 36-year-old woman was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 2009. Unbeknownst to the victim, her ex-partner had a history of violence against women, had previously kidnapped a girlfriend at knifepoint, and was known to prowl social media sites looking for women.

The new law aims to provide people who may be at risk with information about their partner that could potentially save their lives.

How does Clare’s Law work?

Police in the UK, as in Australia, are not allowed to provide just anyone with confidential information, but under Clare’s law they are authorised to provide certain parties with details of someone’s violent past if it is believed necessary.

To make use of Clare’s Law, a person has to first go to police with their concerns about their partner, or the partner of someone they know.

Once they have detailed their concerns, police then follow up and undertake a risk assessment using information they have about the person (if any), and the details of the situation and the circumstances of the relationship.

If they decide that it is appropriate, they will then disclose the information they have to the relevant person, which may or may not be the same person who made the request.

Since Clare’s Law was introduced a year ago, 1,300 women in the UK have been provided with information about their partners or the partner of someone they know.

Should we introduce a similar system in Australia?

Although Clare’s Law has received a great deal of positive attention in the UK, there are a number of concerns at the idea of introducing a similar scheme in Australia.

Domestic violence is under-reported

Providing disclosure of previously violent partners may be helpful when the information is there, but many perpetrators of domestic violence go unreported, and if there is nothing available, it could have the potential to create a false sense of security.

Considering that many victims of domestic violence are afraid to go to police with their concerns, it is likely that many of those who may be able to benefit from the scheme won’t make use of it.

The potential for misuse of information

Information about a person’s criminal history is confidential for a reason.

In the UK, there are strict guidelines about who is able to access information and what they do with it.

If similar laws were introduced in Australia, there would need to be provisions in place to ensure that confidential information wasn’t made public unnecessarily, or misused.

What happens when women choose to leave?

The time when a woman who is in a domestic violence situation is most vulnerable is when they leave their partner. Implementing laws that encourage women to leave relationships, without putting into place adequate supports to ensure they can do so safely, could create additional risks for vulnerable women.

Unfortunately, many women who are at risk from domestic violence do not feel they are able to approach police with their concerns.

Despite the concerns, some argue that a scheme like Clare’s Law could be beneficial in Australia, as long as it is implemented with guidelines to prevent misuse of information, and support for those leaving relationships.

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About Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Specialist Criminal Lawyer and Principal at Sydney Criminal Lawyers, Sydney's leading firm of criminal and traffic defence lawyers.
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