Leaders: Need for caution on domestic abuse measure

The Scottish Government is also 'carefully considering' a specific offence of domestic abuse to be created
The Scottish Government is also 'carefully considering' a specific offence of domestic abuse to be created
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CLARE Wood was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in Salford, Greater Manchester, in 2009.

Her tragic experience has given birth to a scheme allowing people to find out whether their partner has a history of domestic violence. It was introduced in England and Wales in March, now there are proposals to pilot a similar scheme in Scotland. First Minister Alex Salmond has pledged to develop a pilot on a Clare’s Law disclosure scheme here. Mr Salmond also revealed that the Scottish Government was “carefully considering” a call from Solicitor General Lesley Thomson QC for a specific offence of domestic abuse to be created.

Many will wholeheartedly welcome this initiative. The Clare Wood case was horrific in itself and it is wholly understandable that it has fuelled calls for greater scrutiny of the behaviour of partners. But it is not a one-off case, extreme though it was, that lies behind such proposals. The courts have had to deal with many cases of regular and systematic domestic abuse. And behind the cases that come to court are hundreds more where the victims have been too afraid to make a complaint to the police.

Anything that protects people from violence merits support. Knowledge is better than ignorance, and this proposal would enable women to find out more about their partner’s previous relationship conduct. But it merits, too, careful consideration as to its efficacy and its potential for unintended consequence.

We cannot be sure how effective this proposal may be in exposing such behaviour. The difficulties that many victims have had in bringing cases of violent abuse to court testify to the problems that may lie ahead with his proposal. Evidence is disputed. People do not tell the truth. They move to other parts of the country and change their names. How can such a scheme be enforced, where no previous conviction has been secured? The targets may protest that they are being investigated on the basis of unproven allegations – and ones that may have been driven by malice.

There is another difficulty. It is not always the case that those who have perpetrated an incident of domestic abuse in the past will automatically go on to do so again. Resort to such scrutiny, even before consideration of a new specific offence, may work against those who have indicated genuine contrition and remorse. How would such a scheme allow rehabilitation of offenders?

These questions do not invalidate the proposal for greater scrutiny of domestic behaviour. But they do need to be considered in framing specific and particular guidelines to the police and welfare agencies to ensure that they will work in the manner intended. Domestic abuse is no trivial matter. A pilot scheme to help prevent it is welcome, but it will require careful monitoring and assessment before being rolled out nationwide.

Fringe has become centre stage

NEWS that the starting date of the official Edinburgh International Festival next year is being moved forward one week to 7 August – in line with the start of the Festival Fringe – will be welcomed by many. It will please many visitors to the capital. And it will bring to an end the sense of aftermath and exodus of potential audiences that has increasingly come to mark the final week of the official Festival.

But how ironic it is that what was once the “tag-along Fringe” has matured from being a set of side shows to the “proper” Festival, to dictate the timing of what was once indisputably the main event.

It is perhaps not just that the tail has come to wag the dog but that the “tail” has become the main attraction.

The change could see an even greater influx of visitors to Edinburgh from around the world – a test of the hospitality of residents but indisputably a money-spinner for the city’s hotels, guest houses, restaurants, cafe bars and pubs. Last year’s Fringe took place over 25 days and totalled more than 2,695 shows from 47 countries in more than 270 venues.

What a change from 1947 when it began as a small unofficial adjunct to the official Festival. It reflects a profound swing away from the conservatism and formalism that characterised theatre and musical performances in the post-war years.

Today the Fringe is the magnet. And it has become an established launch pad for many musical and theatrical events – there were more than 1,400 world premieres last year, and in particular for comedy shows. Last year more than a third of all Fringe events were comedy. Now the Fringe, it seems, is having the last laugh on its once dominant parent.