THE BLOG
21/07/2011 19:14 BST | Updated 20/09/2011 06:12 BST

Why "Clare's Law" Is Highly Unlikely to go Down the Same Route as "Sarah's Law"

Michael Brown, the grieving father of Facebook murder victim Clare Wood, took his campaign to Westminster this week to lobby for new legislation to allow women to find out whether their partners have a violent past.

Michael Brown, the grieving father of Facebook murder victim Clare Wood, took his campaign to Westminster this week to lobby for new legislation to allow women to find out whether their partners have a violent past.

Mr Brown's daughter was strangled by George Appleton who she met on the social networking site. It later emerged that her killer had a history of violence against women, including kidnapping at knifepoint.

At Clare's inquest, the coroner backed calls from Mr Brown and the Association of Chief Police Officers for partners to have information about violent offenders disclosed to them.

The Victims' Commissioner Louise Casey and Salford MP Hazel Blears have joined Mr Brown on his campaign for Clare's law, modelled on that of Sarah's law which was introduced following the murder of schoolgirl Sarah Payne. And Home Secretary Theresa May is said to be examining the proposal.

Sarah's law allows controlled access to the Sex Offenders Register, so parents with young children can find out if a child sex-offender is living in their area. Sarah Payne's mother has always insisted that such a law would have saved her daughter's life.

Campaigners for Clare's law argue that it too could save lives, and women in abusive relationships should have the right to know about the violent past of the men they were with, just as Sarah's Law gives parents the right to know of any child sex convictions of men with access to their children.

However, whilst violence against both women and men in relationships is abhorrent, there is a crucial difference between an obsessive abusive partner and a paedophile.

Child sex offenders are a danger to an entire community whereas an abusive partner is only usually a danger to the person with whom he is in a relationship. Paedophiles hanging around at the school gate are not selective - any child is at danger. Whereas an obsessed partner is not interested in Miss A, Miss B or Miss C but the sole focus on his attention is Miss D and, generally, he is not a danger to the public at large.

Clare's law also raises the issue of privacy and the fact that publication of previous convictions could severely prejudice a jury. Whilst there may be violence in a person's background, the incident could have occurred many years ago and out of specific circumstances. For example, the stress and pressure of an adulterous relationship or as a result of extreme provocation.

Of course, this does not excuse violent behaviour towards a partner in any way and it is certainly something I do not condone. But it might explain the circumstances around the incident.

This therefore raises the question of whether it is fair that a person's past mistakes should haunt him for the rest of his life and subsequently undermine his ability to start a relationship in the future. This would engage Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights. Also, if someone does commit a violent act against his partner, the publication of their previous convictions might severely prejudice a jury and prevent a fair trial - which may hamper justice being passed on an individual who could ultimately then be free to terrorise others.

While I commend the efforts of Michael Brown and his fellow campaigners, it is highly unlikely that Clare's law will make it through parliament.

That said, domestic abuse is a growing problem and it is imperative that individuals get better protection. A halfway house solution might be the disclosure of information to the local police station and the partner who has made the enquiry is simply told that there is an issue but the exact details are left unspecified. It would then be up to individual to ask the partner, asses the risk and make a judgement on whether or not to continue the relationship.