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Flanagan says law to allow gardaí disclose a partner's abusive history 'not considered necessary'

Under UK law, a member of the public can ask police to tell them if their partner may pose a risk to them.

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THE MINISTER FOR Justice has said his department examined UK law that allows police to disclose information about a partners’ abusive history but that it did not consider similar legislation in Ireland “necessary”.

The Domestic Disclosure Scheme, also known as Clare’s Law in the UK, allows people to ask police if their partner may pose a risk to them. Members of the public can also make enquiries into the partner of a close friend or family member.

A decision-making forum then meets to discuss the case and decides whether a disclosure of previous abusive behaviour should be made to the person at risk. 

In the UK, the law was introduced after a campaign by the family of 36-year-old Clare Wood, who was murdered by her partner George Appleton in 2009. Clare’s killer strangled her and set her body on fire before taking his own life.

Appleton had previous convictions of repeated harassment, threats and the kidnapping at knifepoint of one of his other ex-girlfriends.

Clare’s father Michael Brown, on discovering the violent past of his daughter’s killer, launched the campaign. He stated at the time that he believed Clare would have broken up with and distanced herself from Appleton if she had known about these previous offences.

More than half of all applications for disclosure are approved, with more than 6,000 applications in the UK each year. 

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy recently asked Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan about any plans to introduce similar legislation in Ireland. 

In his response, Flanagan confirmed that his department considered such a scheme in 2015, in consultation with An Garda Síochána. 

“I have been advised that taking into consideration relevant data protection law and measures in place by An Garda Síochána, it was determined that such legislation was not considered necessary at that time,” he said.

Flanagan said his department keeps all law under review on an ongoing basis and tackling domestic, sexual and gender based violence is a “major priority”.

Under the government’s national strategy, An Garda Síochána is responsible for developing and implementing a ‘risk assessment matrix’ for all victims of domestic violence and sexual crime. 

He said a pilot was rolled out last year and full implementation will be completed “as soon as possible”, on a phased basis. 

Rehabilitation

Flanagan said the government’s strategy also aims to review perpetrator programmes designed to rehabilitate offenders. 

There are three ‘Choice’ programmes across the country for abusive partners who want to change their damaging behaviour. One of these programmes, Mend, which is run by the Men’s Development Network, has seen an increase in the number of younger men joining. 

Speaking to TheJournal.ie last month, CEO of the network Sean Cooke said: 

What’s interesting is the biggest trend is they’re a bit younger coming into the programme now. The age group overall has been 25 to 50 and there has been a greater trend to the lower end of that, say 25 to 35. Before that it was a bit higher.

He said there has been a “cultural swing” around domestic abuse and younger generations are willing to confront it.

“I think that trend is down to a general awareness, people are not letting it continue,” he explained.

Petition in UK

The government in the UK has been under pressure recently to toughen up Clare’s Law and ensure police respond more quickly to requests for information.

The fresh calls came after 27-year-old Rosie Darbyshire was beaten to death by her boyfriend last year. 

She had made a request under Clare’s Law, which can currently take up to 35 days. On the 11th day after she made the request, she was killed. 

A petition calling for faster disclosures now has more than 10,000 signatures.

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