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Could there be a Practical Application of the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme for the Digital Dating Age?

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Could there be a Practical Application of the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme for the Digital Dating Age?

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There are a number of views on the benefits of the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS), which is, in essence, the ability to check out a partner’s or a potential partner’s background.

DVDS could be very revealing and really help a potential victim to avoid becoming one. Some have countered that a negative result might turn out to be a ‘false negative’ and put a person at even greater risk since they might be under the misapprehension that their concerns are unfounded.

Consider the scenario where an abuser discovers that their partner has made, or is about to make, an application. He or she will attempt to then control that person to prevent them from doing so and put a person at risk.

Online dating is by far the biggest way of finding a partner in this technological age, so how could Clare’s Law help through a dating app? If a person is happy to have their background checked then a potential partner should know this before considering entering into a relationship.

So might a dating site consider introducing a tag that indicates the person is willing to be the subject of a DVDS enquiry? Whether or not a DVDS enquiry was made, the fact that a person is willing to be subjected to one might give a good indication as to their likely history and/or their attitude.

Favouring the choice of a new partner on the grounds of their willingness to undergo a DVDS enquiry gives a person the ability to make informed choices right at the beginning rather than finding themselves in a situation where they want to make an enquiry but are too scared to do so.

What is Clare’s Law / The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS)?

The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS, also known as Clare’s Law) was brought in for all police forces in England and Wales in March 2014.

It enables the police to disclose information to a victim or potential victim of domestic abuse about their partner’s or ex-partner’s previous abuse or violence.  In doing so, police have a duty to observe statutory guidance on the operation of scheme. This guidance is designed to increase the scheme’s visibility (and therefore encourage applications) and to ensure consistency of operation.

DVDS has two key modes: the ‘Right to Ask’ and the ‘Right to Know’. Under the ‘Right to Ask’, an individual (or relevant third party, such as a family member) can ask police to check whether a partner or ex-partner has an abusive or violent past. If the records do show an individual may be at risk, police will consider disclosing the information. Under the ‘Right to Know’, police can make a disclosure on their own initiative if they have received information about violent or abusive behaviour that might put the safety of the perpetrator’s partner at risk.

Police are at liberty to make disclosures under their common law powers to prevent crime and in compliance with case law, data protection and human rights legislation. Disclosure must be reasonable and proportionate, and it must be based on a credible risk of violence or harm.

Mark Groves CEO

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By Fiona Bawden, Times Online (8th May 2007)

“Steve Connor, a student at City Law School, is a man on a mission. Six years ago he was a fairly directionless 27-year-old. Today, as well as taking the Bar Vocational Course, he is chairman of the National Centre for Domestic Violence, a ground-breaking organisation that he dragged into existence after a friend could not get legal help to protect her from an abusive partner.

Connor’s route to the Bar has been circuitous. In 2001 he returned from a year in Australia (he says that he would not dignify describing it as a gap year), and took a job as a process server in South London. The job (“I just saw it advertised in the paper”) was not quite as dull as it sounds. On one occasion he was threatened with a machete, on another, he was nearly stabbed by a man he had arranged to meet on Clapham Common to serve with a non-molestation order: “He’d seemed really friendly on the phone…”

The turning point in his life came when a friend, who was being abused by her partner, turned to him for support. Connor went with her to the police. She did not want to press criminal charges so the police suggested that she visit a solicitor to take out a civil injunction. “We must have seen 12 solicitors in a morning. We just went from one to the next to the next to the next. Everyone was very eager to help until we sat down to fill in the forms for the legal aid means test,” he says. The woman, who had a small child, did not qualify for public funding. But, Connor says, her financial situation as it appeared on paper did not bear any relation to her financial situation in reality. “She had a part-time job and she and her partner owned their home. Yet she didn’t have any money. Her boyfriend was very controlling and controlled all the money; he kept the chequebooks and didn’t let her have access to the bank account.”

The injustice of the situation got under Connor’s skin. “I just couldn’t believe that there was no help available to people who did not qualify for public funds but could not afford to pay.

I just kept feeling that this must be able to be sorted if only someone would address it.”That “someone” turned out to be him.

In 2002, thanks entirely to Connor’s doggedness, the London Centre for Domestic Violence was formed. It started out with him and a friend, but is now a national organisation, covering 27 counties, and has helped approximately 10,000 victims last year to take out injunctions against their partners.

NCDV now has nine full-time staff, 12 permanent volunteers and has trained over 5000 law and other students as McKenzie Friends to accompany unrepresented victims into court. We have also trained over 8000 police officers in civil remedies available regarding domestic violence. The National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) has branches in London, Guildford and Manchester and is on track to have branches in 16 areas within the next two years.

NCDV specialises exclusively in domestic violence work and could be characterised as a cross between McDonald’s and Claims Direct. The high degree of specialisation means that its processes are streamlined: clients can be seen quickly and the work is done speedily and cheaply. “Sometimes, we will have one of our trained McKenzie Friends at a court doing 10 applications in one day,” Connor says.

Clients are not charged for the service. NCDV staff take an initial statement: clients who qualify for legal aid are referred to a local firm; those that don’t get free help from the centre itself. It runs on a shoestring, heavily reliant on volunteers and capping staff salaries at £18,000 a year.

Steve expects to qualify as a barrister this summer and hopes that having a formal legal qualification will give the centre added clout. “We are already acknowledged as experts and consulted at a high level, so I thought it would be helpful if I could back that up by being able to say I’m a barrister,” he says. He is just about to complete a one-year full-time BVC course at the City Law School (formerly the Inns of Court Law School) and, all being well, should be called to the Bar in July. Although Connor sees his long-term future as a barrister, he says that he has no immediate plans to practise. “I want to get NCDV running on a fully national level. Then I may take a step back and have a career at the Bar.”