Disclosure scheme to tackle domestic violence begins in Northern Ireland

A scheme to let people find out if their partner has a history of domestic violence has begun in Northern Ireland.

The Domestic Violence and Abuse Disclosure Scheme means the public has the ‘right to ask’ the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to investigate if they are potentially at risk.

A similar initiative, known as Clare’s Law, was introduced in England and Wales in 2014 and Scotland in 2016. It was named after Clare Wood (pictured), who was murdered by her violent ex-boyfriend in 2009.

Other family members or friends can also ask the police to investigate if they have concerns that a relative or friend is in danger from their partner. Depending on the results of its investigation, the PSNI can then advise a potential victim if they are at risk.

Det Supt Ryan Henderson said: “We’ve tried to learn from other schemes that are in existence by making it simple and easy.

“It is difficult for people to come forward and reveal that they are victims of domestic abuse. The scheme is one that we hope people will engage with early in a relationship.

“If they have some concerns about how their partner’s behaving, if they’re acting in a way that makes them question their own safety, this would allow them then to complete an online application via our website or via the Northern Ireland Direct website.”

The disclosure scheme was welcomed by Jan Melia, from Women’s Aid Northern Ireland. She said: “Clare’s law is essentially about the right to ask and the right to know whether there is a perpetrator in your family or whether you are in a relationship with a perpetrator,” she said.

“If you’re seeing a pattern of behaviour that worries you then you can ask the PSNI if this person has a history of domestic violence.

“If you’re a parent or a friend of a family where there is a perpetrator in the midst then you can also ask and you also have a right to be told as well.”

Colin Reid from the Northern Ireland Association of Social Workers (NIASW) also welcomed the news but called for additional measures around domestic homicides which account for around half the murders in the county. He said: “NIASW welcomes today’s announcement and we commend the Department of Justice for its work on this matter. However, there is an urgent need for the Department to follow up the introduction of the scheme by implementing Domestic Homicide Reviews in Northern Ireland.”

Domestic Homicide Reviews are multi-agency reviews which examine the circumstances in which the death of a person aged 16 or over has resulted from violence, abuse or neglect by a person they were related to, were in an intimate relationship with, or were living with. The lack of arrangements for Domestic Homicide Reviews in Northern Ireland has been raised as an area of concern by members of NIASW.

Mr Reid continued: “Domestic homicides account for approximately 50 per cent of murders in Northern Ireland. It is essential that there is an inter-agency approach to ensure lessons are learned from these tragedies if we are to help prevent similar crimes in future. Given that the introduction of Domestic Homicide Reviews does not require new legislation or any amendment to existing legislation there is a real opportunity to effect positive change quickly.”

“NIASW has previously recommended to the Department of Justice that an arrangement to pilot test the introduction of Domestic Homicide Reviews should be put in place. I have today written to the Permanent Secretary reaffirming this recommendation and encouraging swift and decisive action is taken to help prevent future tragedies.”