A Commons Home Affairs Committee inquiry into domestic violence, held to identity issues which must be addressed in the Government’s upcoming draft Domestic Abuse Bill, was published on 22 October 2018.
Recommendations included the urgent introduction of a national register of ‘serial stalkers and domestic violence perpetrators’. This proposal follows a recommendation made by Paladin National Stalking Advice Service, who have opined that additional measures to those currently existing under both civil and criminal law, were necessary to protect actual and potential victims of domestic violence and stalking.
Paladin founder, Laura Richards, explained that the proposed register should include ‘serial stalkers who had offended on two occasions against two separate women’. This, in itself, poses questions as to which offences may prompt registration upon conviction; whether such requirements would be confined to those convicted only of stalking offences, or whether it is to include domestic violence more generally. It is also unclear whether stalking two separate male complaints, on two separate occasions, would meet the registration requirements.
The proposed register suggested by Paladin would be akin to that of registered sex offenders. What, therefore, would this mean in practice?
Despite the commonly referred to title of a ‘sex offenders register’, a publically available list does not exist. The Sexual Offences Act 2003 requires individuals convicted of certain sexual offences to notify the police of various personal details including bank account and passport information. Individuals must also inform the police should any of their details change, or if they plan on travelling abroad or residing away from their home address. In addition, Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (‘MAPPA’) exist, through which various agencies such as the police, the Prison Service and Probation work together to protect the public by managing risks posed. Notably, this includes the provision for disclosure of information about a registered individual to third parties, if necessary for protection of the public. By way of example, an individual convicted of adult rape seeking new residence in a shared accommodation may prompt disclosure by the authorities to the landlord. Similarly, leisure centre staff might be alerted where a local offender is felt to pose a potential risk to those using the centre.
Whether or not the same provisions can be easily transferred to convicted ‘serial stalkers and domestic violence perpetrators’ is unclear. The Committee’s recommendation was that individuals placed on the register should, like sex offenders, be managed through multi agency protection (MAPPA). One wonders what triggers would be for disclosure of information to the public; could a situation occur whereby any proposed partner of registered individuals would be notified as to their prospective partner’s past convictions?
One also wonders whether the notification process for the proposed register would, like sex offenders, require the provision of personal information to the police and an ongoing requirement to report any change in circumstances and travel/residence plans. If so, can the same provisions be applied in practice and are they proportionate? For example, registered sex offenders must notify the police of travel plans and plans to reside away from the family home to monitor the risk of potential contact with children or vulnerable adults. For an individual convicted of stalking or domestic violence, can it be said that any travel or time away from home may present a risk of re-offending? It is clear that as with all restrictions on a person’s right to a private and family life, careful consideration must be given as to the proportionality on such infringements.
Under current law, any member of the public has the right to ask the police if their partner might pose a risk to them. This is known as the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (‘DVDS’), often referred to as ‘Clare’s Law’ following the 2009 murder of Clare Wood by her boyfriend. The DVDS gives members of the public a formal mechanism to make enquiries about an individual who they are in a relationship with or who is in a relationship with someone they know. A disclosure will be made when necessary to safeguard an individual. Witnesses called to the Home Affairs Committee inquiry suggested that the focus ought to be changed; rather than disclosures made under the DVDS scheme which were dependent on an individual asking about someone’s history, offenders should be tracked as a matter of course by police officers – by way of a register and the associated MPPA.
The protection of actual and potential victims of domestic violence is crucial, and indeed the proposed Bill seeks to address a number of issues specific to this area of offending. It is however, unclear whether applying the same post-conviction provisions applicable to convicted sex offenders to convicted domestic offenders is an attempt at a ‘one size fits all’ provision, and indeed whether indeed the provisions are transferable in practice.
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