News in inverted commas

So, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Police have concluded in a report that Police responses to domestic violence are patchy. This is news? We all know that the range of responses to dv ranges wildly from the enlightened, responsive and professional to…well…not that at all.

For those of you who would like to read the actual report, rather than just the BBC or press coverage of the report and people’s responses to it – you can find it here.

Sadly, it took me so long to track down the blimping thing on the gargantuan “clean themed” but utterly opaque gov.uk behemoth of a website (where it in fact was not located) that I have no time to read or comment upon the report, other than my single line off the cuff snark about the not-very-newsiness of this particular finding.

I am certain however that a certain tranche of loyal readers and regular commenters will freely express their views in illuminating ways through the comments function…Over to you lot. Because *Newsflash* some of us have work to do.

Clare’s Law – an ideal

[EDIT : Readers should take a look at the helpful (but depressing) comment from Steven Barratt regarding the way in which LASPO is being interpreted, along with my response. It seems that my idea is unlikely to work :-(]

I’ve had an ideal, as they say in Bristol. “Lightbullb!” as Gru would say.

Banksy depicts marital breakdown... Pic thanks to Williamsdb on flickr

Banksy depicts marital breakdown… Pic thanks to Williamsdb on flickr

I’ve been a mite negative about so-called Clare’s Law (the domestic violence disclosure scheme), but it occurred to me today that it has an unforeseen utility. And it is this…

Applicants for legal aid in private family disputes need to provide evidence of domestic violence from a long but very specific list.

For all but one of the categories of permissible evidence there is a 2 year cut off, that is to say historic dv don’t count. Not, of course, that 2 years and a day feels very “historic” for the victim, or indeed the child witness. But I digress.

So. There will be many people who have suffered domestic violence at the hands of the person now taking them to court about the kids or the house, and who have suffered it not so long ago, and who have evidence of that domestic violence – but who are nonetheless left out in the cold as far as state assistance for legal advice and representation is concerned. Because it’s not quite fresh enough to trump austerity. Thank you LASPO. Gert lush.

Unless.

Unless they are able to fit within Reg 33(2)(a) of the Civil Legal Aid (Procedure) Regulations 2012 by providing evidence of “a relevant unspent conviction for a domestic violence offence” that is.

Doesn’t have to be a conviction for an offence against the applicant for legal aid.
Doesn’t have to be a conviction in the last 2 years. It does have to be unspent, mind you but doesn’t have to be in the last 2 years.

(Of course, if there is recent or ongoing behaviour they can apply for a non-mol and get in that way. But in such circumstances there is unlikely to be a 2 year problem.)

This is where Clare’s Law comes in. A victim of domestic violence say, 3 years ago, needs legal representation to be able to deal with proceedings brought by his or her ex. No recent incidents, but that is because the violent partner has not known where they fled to, but its no less terrifying for the 3 year distance.

Chances are s/he may have relevant pre-cons. Chances are one of them might be unspent. Clare’s Law potentially enables the victim to obtain that evidence and protect themselves from the vulnerability of being a litigant in person.

Yay. *Small Bristolian dance*. Not ideal. But an ideal.

Similarly I suppose, Sarah’s law (same but for sex offenders) may assist the so-called “protective parent”.

I’m certainly not encouraging fishing expeditions to get dirt on a former partner as a device to get legal aid. But in circumstances where there is a regulatory set up involving a vast amount of technical hoop jumping with sometimes arbitrary and concerning results, it is necessary and legitimate to assist people who ought to be eligible for help to obtain that help. Parliament intended for LASPO to catch victims of domestic violence. We know in practice some of them are falling through the net. And it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that a person who was violent three years ago was also violent five years ago, and got caught and convicted. Sadly repeat perpetrators do escape without convictions over many years and across multiple relationships, but it might help someone. One of the real difficulties with the LASPO evidence requirements is the need for victims themselves to obtain evidence. Clare’s Law might help them access information they might otherwise struggle to get hold of. And although I haven’t been able to access the up to date protocols for the scheme now it is nationally rolled out it must be right that one factor the police will consider when making a disclosure decision is that the applicant proposes to use the information to protect him/herself and their children through the seeking of court orders (or through resisting them).

Of course it doesn’t assist at all with the elephant in the room which is the absence of legal aid AT ALL for those accused of domestic violence, some of whom of course are not guilty of such allegations.

But it is at least some small comfort to think that one daft ministerial ideal might unwittingly help to undo some of the injustice of stupid ministerial ideal (or do I mean idealology?).

Gert lush.

Clare’s Law in the Community

I wrote about Clare’s Law in The Guardian when it was first mooted way back in 2011. The subbies entitled it “Why Clare’s Law Won’t Work” which I thought rather took the nuance out of the piece, but it was fair to say I had concerns about why Clare’s Law might put some women at greater risk, and might not assist the vast majority of actual or potential victims of domestic abuse.

As a result of that article I was contacted by various media organisation, did a brief slot on The One Show and have intermittently ever since received calls and emails from people wondering if I will give a quote or do an interview – and it began again last week as the National Rollout of Clare’s Law was announced to coincide with International Womens’ Day. The truth is I am no expert on Clare’s Law, but there is (was) comparatively little discussion out there about the scheme (who’d be fool enough to criticise it, right?) and comparatively little is understood by the public about the way that domestic violence victims become embroiled in violent relationships and the journey they must go on to extricate themselves and to subsequently keep safe. People don’t realise that domestic violence is cyclical – for both perpetrator and victim. For a woman* who thinks abuse is normal, simply removing her from the immediate risk does not make her better able to recognise the warning signs, does not make her better able to make good judgments and keep herself safe. And my concern about Clare’s Law was that the policy makers seemed not to understand these complexities either.

I won’t rehash all the arguments – they are set out in the Guardian article and in my subsequent posts here on Pink Tape. And furthermore, I feel a little bit less like a lone voice here than I did when I last wrote on this topic – a recent article can be found here from Sian and Crooked Rib, and Refuge have come out against the policy.

I recently worked with a young, vulnerable mother who had grown up in an extremely violent household. She had acknowledged the relationship between herself and the father of their baby was toxic and yet weeks later was explaining his violent behaviour away to the police, refusing to give a statement because she loved him. I’ve lost count of the clients for whom I have obtained injunctions who have gone back and gone back and gone back. Or who have picked an almost identical violent partner the next time round. You cannot keep people safe by the mere provision of information. After the first punch, or the first slap they know he’s violent. BUT THEY DON’T LEAVE. We know this. This is not news. It is not rational but it is what happens**.

Vulnerable adults need to be empowered to keep themselves safe. And that takes time. And it costs money.

The thing is, Clare’s Law isn’t law at all, it’s procedure:

The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme has not introduced any new legislation. Therefore, any disclosure must be within the existing legal framework and, in particular, have due regard to established case law, the Human Rights Act 1998, the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.  (Pilot Scheme Guidance)

It’s a procedure which hands responsibility to victims, with no guarantee of medium to long term support for those who exit that is required to actually keep them and their children safe in the future, and with the double whammy effect of weakening of any sense of duty to the “fools” who knowingly stay. It’s meant to be empowering, but it might just be dangerous.

*I’ve talked about women in this post – as noted in the previous posts on this topic, Clare’s Law is open to both men and women, although it was predominantly used by women during the pilot phase.

** I generalise of course. Domestic Abuse is not homogenous. And neither are its perpetrators or its victims.