Jury's out on whether Clare's Law protects victims against violence: U.K. expert

The Saskatchewan government introduced Clare's Law, legislation that allows police to disclose a person's violent or abusive past to a partner who could be at risk. The law already exists in the U.K. CBC News reached out to an expert to see what impact it's making.

Sask. police chiefs say law is worth it, if it saves even one life

This week, Saskatchewan became the first province in Canada to introduce Clare's Law. (Shutterstock)

The "jury is still very much out" on whether a law that allows police to disclose a person's violent history actually prevents violence, according to an expert in the U.K.

Sandra Walklate is a professor at the University of Liverpool and has studied Clare's Law in England and Wales, including co-authoring a paper. 

The law is named after Clare Wood, who was murdered by an ex-boyfriend in the Greater Manchester area. It was introduced in 2014.

"It was one of those bits of legislation that wasn't backed by any evidence at all," Walklate said Thursday.

University of Liverpool professor Sandra Walklate applauds Saskatchewan for introducing Clare's Law as part of a larger package of plans to address domestic violence. (CBC News/Skype)

This week, Saskatchewan, a province with a high rate of domestic violence, became the first in Canada to introduce Clare's Law.

The legislation carries the potential for good, in terms of how police track potential serial offenders and share information, Walklate said.

Potential victims could be exposed to blame

"If you expect it to prevent violence against women, then the jury is still very much out."

She believes the law places the onus on a potential victim, which is complicated. Someone could ask police to perform a search on the partner of a loved one, but that loved one may not want to know the results of the search or decide to stay in the relationship anyway.

"All the research shows is that the process of becoming an ex-partner is actually the most dangerous point in a relationship that's got violent tendencies."

"If she takes no action and then calls on services for support are they going to blame her because they go, 'But you knew — you didn't have to stay.'"

Saskatchewan Justice Minister Don Morgan says work is underway to develop the specifics of how police will disclose information to someone about a person's violent or abusive past. (CBC)

Disclosure varies for police 

Another issue is how police respond to the legislation. 

Saskatchewan's privacy commissioner said the government will determine what protocol police need to follow, but whether or not to disclose information will lie in the hands of individual forces. 

Citing Home Office figures, the BBC reported different police forces disclosed information at vastly different rates. 

40 days for disclosure

Of the 8,000 or so requests made to police, less than half of the requests resulted in a disclosure, Walklate said in 2017.

"Some forces are much more proactive with this bit of legislation than others," she said, adding "justice by geography" could be at play. 

She noted 40 days was the average it took for someone to receive a disclosure, with at least one force making an effort to cut that wait time down to seven days. 

Sask. NDP's Nicole Sarauer says police need to talk with those impacted by domestic violence before Clare's Law rolls out. (CBC)

NDP says police need education

Sask. NDP's justice critic Nicole Sarauer wants police detachments to work with those impacted by domestic violence to ensure officers are properly educated on the issue before the law takes effect. 

"We need to make sure that those who need to access, should be able to access this information."

Walklate said the reasons for nondisclosures are not concretely known and vary, from there being no information to disclose and someone not wanting to know, to policing priorities. 

Resources are also a factor, she added.

'There will be a cost,' says head of Sask. police chiefs

"There will be a cost," said Marlo Pritchard, Weyburn's police chief and head of the Saskatchewan Association of Chiefs of Police.

"But I think socially it's a responsibility of all of us to protect individuals from experiencing violence," adding it's unclear what the exact figure will be. 

Pritchard is part of a committee working to develop the protocols around Clare's Law which, for police, could operate like a criminal record check, but with "higher threshold," he said. 

Walklate applauded Saskatchewan for introducing Clare's Law as part of ongoing measures to prevent domestic violence, which she believes is key. 

"You can't put all your eggs in the Clare's Law basket."

The NDP and other advocates agree. Sarauer is calling on the provincial government to mandate K-12 education on healthy relationships. She said introducing Clare's Law doesn't cost the province any money.

About the Author

Stephanie Taylor

Reporter, CBC Saskatchewan

Stephanie Taylor is a reporter based in Saskatchewan. Before joining CBC News in Regina, she covered municipal politics in her hometown of Winnipeg and in Halifax. Reach her at stephanie.taylor@cbc.ca

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