WOMEN will be given the right to check on a partner’s violent past for the first time in a bid to tackle the scourge of domestic abuse.
First Minister Alex Salmond said Scotland would pilot a disclosure scheme, known as Clare’s Law, following a proposal from Police Scotland Chief Constable Stephen House.
Already in operation in England and Wales, it allows police to release information on request about a partner’s past if it relates to domestic violence or other violent acts. The scheme is named after Clare Wood, who was murdered by her former boyfriend in Salford, Greater Manchester, in 2009.
Mr Salmond revealed the move yesterday at First Minister’s Questions to Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, who previously pressed the Scottish
Government to adopt Clare’s Law. The First Minister told MSPs: “The chief constable has today proposed a multi-agency group to set up and develop a pilot on a Clare’s Law disclosure scheme in Scotland.”
The announcement came as one of the country’s top prosecutors called for a new law to be introduced as part of a more modern approach to tackling domestic abuse.
Solicitor General Lesley Thomson said there was a need for “bespoke” legislation which would tackle a prolonged pattern of behaviour rather than specific offences such as assault and breach of the peace.
Addressing the same conference in Glasgow where the chief constable outlined his plans for the pilot, Ms Thomson said: “We continue to move forward in an innovative way to challenge domestic abuse – identifying and implementing improvements and, above all, working together.
“The stalking legislation passed in 2010 gave prosecutors a new tool to tackle this harmful behaviour and sent a clear public message that this sort of conduct was not acceptable.
“Creating a specific offence of domestic abuse is one way in which we could ensure that our criminal law is and remains fit for purpose.”
Police Scotland said a national database had already been created, allowing officers to record and assess cases of domestic abuse.
Inspector Deborah Barton said: “Working in partnership is key to effectively tackling domestic abuse and we will be relentless in targeting the perpetrators of domestic abuse and ensuring victims get the right support.”
Clare’s Law, which came into force in England and Wales in March, followed the death of 36-year-old Miss Wood, who was strangled and set on fire by her ex-boyfriend George Appleton.
Miss Wood, a mother-of-one, had met Appleton on Facebook, unaware of his history of violence against women, including repeated harassment, threats and the kidnapping at knifepoint of one of his ex-girlfriends.
The First Minister and justice secretary Kenny MacAskill have previously said they would look at the experience in England.
According to the Home Office, a 14-month pilot in four police force areas provided more than 100 people with “potentially life-saving” information.
Commenting yesterday, Scottish Conservative leader Ms Davidson said: “I welcome the introduction of a Clare’s Law pilot and thank the Scottish Government for taking campaigners’ concerns on board.
“Thousands of people across Scotland suffer domestic abuse each year, and this law could help protect many of them.”
Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes added: “I am pleased that consideration is now being given to whether Scotland could introduce a similar system [to England].”
Figures released in March showed domestic abuse prosecutions had risen by almost 50 per cent since the creation of Police Scotland last year.
Last night, women’s groups welcomed the solicitor general’s suggestion that legislation on domestic abuse should be tightened up.
Lily Greenan, manager at Scottish Women’s Aid, said: “Domestic abuse is about more than a single incident or fight. It involves patterns of behaviour that are consciously used by abusive men to control and isolate their partners, keep them in a state of fear and ensure their silence and their compliance.”
Mhairi McGowan, of domestic abuse advocacy group Assist, added: “Creating a new offence of domestic abuse would be an innovative and groundbreaking move and we welcome the solicitor general’s statement.”