The trial of a new scheme that gives people the right to ask if their partner has a history of domestic abuse has begun in Wales.
Gwent Police said the scheme – dubbed “Clare’s Law” after Clare Wood, a woman killed by her former partner – was a “massive step forward” in tackling the problem.
The force has launched an 18-month trial period, along with Wiltshire police, to test the scheme before an expected nationwide roll-out in 2014.
Police forces in Manchester and Nottingham are expected to join the pilot in September.
Clare Wood, from Salford, Greater Manchester, was murdered in 2009 by a former boyfriend with a violent background.
The 36-year-old mother had made several complaints to the police about George Appleton, whom she had met on the internet, before he killed her. He was later found hanged.
The scheme is based on Sarah’s Law, a sex offender disclosure scheme now in place across all 43 forces in England and Wales, which allows members of the public to find out if a sex offender is living in their area.
That was the result of a long-running campaign by Sara Payne, whose daughter Sarah was murdered by a known paedophile.
During that scheme’s pilot in four police areas, 315 applications were made which uncovered 21 cases where a potentially dangerous person did have access to an applicant’s child.
Gwent Police chiefs said one of the purposes of the Clare’s Law pilot is to discover how many applications might be made under the new scheme.
DCI Roger Fortey of Gwent Police – the national policing lead for the four forces taking part in the pilot – said: “There is a finite number of sex offenders living in communities, particularly in Gwent, whereas domestic abuse is widespread and far more of a social issue that affects more people.
“So we really have no idea how many applications will be made, which is one of the reasons this trial is so important.
“This is a real opportunity in terms of safe-guarding people from domestic abuse and a massive step forward.”
It is already possible to request similar disclosures from police but the new law “tightens up” the mechanisms, DCI Fortey said.
It is also expected publicity around the scheme will lead to a higher number of applications made nationwide.
Under the law, anyone will be entitled to request information about a person’s criminal history if they can show they have genuine concerns they may have been abusive in the past.
Officers in the force’s Public Protection Unit will make initial checks, before contacting the person making the complaint for more information.
If they believe that person is at risk of harm, they will take immediate reaction.
If not, officers will then undertake a more detailed investigation before holding a multi-agency meeting, where representatives from the force, probation, the prisons and social services will make a decision on whether a disclosure of information is lawful, necessary and proportionate.
While anyone will be able to make applications, the disclosure will normally be made only to the person who is at risk – unless there is another person especially close to them who can help.
In this way, the scheme hopes to allow potential victims to make informed decisions about whether they want to stay with their partner or accept help from counsellors, social services or – in extreme cases – women’s refuges.
Police hope that opening up the scheme to third parties will encourage families or friends who suspect there is a danger of harm to come forward – even if the potential victim is unaware or refuses to believe they are at risk.
DCI Fortey added: “We have tried to be very inclusive in not giving any guidelines as to who can apply, but the likelihood is that any third parties who do so will be close family – like parents, brothers or sisters, friends or even next door neighbours. Anyone who has a concern.”
But he said fears the scheme will create a “postcode lottery” were unfounded, as other forces are able to disclose information in a similar way.
“We want to make it clear that it doesn’t matter where you live in the country, you can get a similar response,” he said.
“This law just provides a clearer framework, tightening up on what should happen.”