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Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme - Right to Ask and Right to Know Procedure

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The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS, also known as “Clare’s Law”) enables the police to disclose information to a victim or potential victim of domestic abuse about their partner’s or ex-partner’s previous abusive or violent offending.

The scheme is not based on any single piece of legislation. It formalises processes, based on common law powers and other existing disclosure powers in which the Police can use to protect people in who may be at risk from Domestic Abuse and violence.

Any disclosure must, therefore, comply with the existing legal framework, in particular the Human Rights Act 1998, the Data Protection Act 1998, the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, and established case law. The principles are summarised as follows:

  1. Information sharing must be lawful, and the sharing of information must be in accordance with the law. Whilst ordinarily non-statutory agencies are bound by common law duty of confidence, case law has established a defence to breach of confidence where the breach is in the public interest. The prevention, detection and investigation of serious crime and the prevention of abuse or serious harm will usually be sufficiently strong public interests to override the duty of confidence.
  1. The information sharing must comply with the eight data protection principles set out in the data Protection Act 1998 and reproduced in the Information Commissioner Officer Code of Practice.
  1. The information sharing must be necessary.
  1. The information sharing must be proportionate.

The Information that can be considered for disclosure includes convictions and out-of-court disposals for violent offences and/or information about the person’s behaviour that reasonably leads the police and other safeguarding agencies to believe that the person poses a risk of harm to the potential victim.  Where police officers have, the power in the course of their duties to disclose spent convictions under the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme it is important that disclosure still needs to be reasonable and proportionate. The police will want to take into account the age of the spent conviction during the decision-making process.

Critical to the success of the scheme is the need for a risk assessment to be completed at every stage in the disclosure process, as this will inform the practical actions necessary to safeguard the potential victim and inform the development of a potential disclosure under this scheme.

The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme recognises two procedures for disclosing information:

  • The ‘Right to Ask’ route, which enables members of the public to make a direct request to the police for information
  • The police making a proactive decision to disclose information to protect a potential victim trigger the ‘Right to Know’ route.

In either case, the information can only be shared between agencies and the disclosure made to the applicant if both the information sharing and the disclosure are lawful, necessary and proportionate to protect the potential victim from further crime.

The DVDS may overlap with and complement other disclosure processes such as MAPPA and Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme (CSODS, or Sarah’s Law). Consideration should be given as to which process is most appropriate in each case.

The request for disclosure may be made by either the potential victim or a third party with concerns about a potential victim. Any disclosure will be made to the most appropriate person, which may not be the applicant but a person best placed to safeguard the potential victim, eg, the potential victim, a parent or third-sector worker.

The request to the police for information about a person’s previous violent offending may be made in person at the police station or elsewhere, by telephone, by email, online or as part of a police investigation. It can also be facilitated by a partner agency where a request has been made to them.

Initial contact

It is likely that initial contact will be received and managed by police control room staff. Verbal applications received by frontline officers should be referred to control room staff to complete once basic details have been recorded.

A complete list of information to be obtained and communicated by police officers or staff during initial contact can be found in Home Office (2013) Domestic violence disclosure scheme guidance. The following information is required to enable checks to be made, but also to enable immediate assessment of risk to a potential victim:

  • details of the person applying, potential victim(s) (if different), affected children and the person about whom information is sought
  • method of contact – this is important to enable follow-up contact without alerting the person who is the subject of the application
  • why the information is being sought and any specific indicators of risk, such as assault, coercive controlling behaviour, indications of violent behaviour
  • consent for information sharing – officers are likely to check a variety of indices for information and may pass on information if necessary to prevent a crime, particularly if necessary to protect the safety of a person, including the potential victim.

Immediate steps must be taken to make any person safe if imminent risk is identified during initial information gathering.

This information should then be forwarded to the appropriate person or unit that deals with DVDS applications, in accordance with local processes.

Initial checks should be completed within 24 hours to assess whether:

  • the disclosure application should be progressed
  • there is an immediate or imminent risk of harm to the potential victim.

These checks must, as a minimum, include:

  • PNC
  • PND
  • ViSOR (if the subject has a ViSOR marker on the PNC)
  • local intelligence systems.

The police officer or staff member should make an initial risk assessment based on the information obtained and the minimum checks made. They must then decide, in accordance with local procedures, whether to progress the disclosure application and how the applicant is to be contacted for this to be done.

If the officer or staff member decides not to progress the application following initial risk assessment, they should still provide the applicant with details of local domestic abuse support services and of the National Domestic Violence Helpline (0808 2000 247) as a preventive measure.

Face-to-face meeting

If the disclosure application is progressed, the applicant must have a face-to-face meeting with an officer or member of police staff to:

  • ensure that the request is not malicious
  • obtain additional details for further risk assessment and to help make the disclosure decision
  • provide information and advice to safeguard the potential victim.

This should take place no more than 10 working days after initial contact. It is strongly recommended that the meeting be conducted by an officer or member of staff from the public protection unit with domestic abuse expertise.

Home Office (2012) Domestic violence disclosure scheme guidance sets out the required steps for a face-to-face meeting:

  • preliminary warnings which the officer or staff must give to the applicant
  • verification of the applicant’s identity
  • further details to be obtained
  • explanation of the need for a confidentiality undertaking by the person to whom any disclosure is made
  • provision of an information pack explaining the DVDS and interim safeguarding measures pending the outcome of the application, eg, leaflets signposting local domestic abuse support services and details of the National Domestic Violence Helpline (0808 2000 247).

Full risk assessment

Where the applicant is the potential victim, a risk assessment should be completed within five working days using the force risk assessment tool, eg, DASH. The research and checks should aim to fill any gaps in information and should include checks with other agencies where appropriate, eg, social services or probation.

All applications will be considered on a case-by-case basis. 

The DVDS does not replace existing procedures in place for Disclosure and Barring Service checks, subject access or Freedom of information requests.

Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme - Right to Ask and Right to Know Procedure[application/vnd.openxmlformats-officedocument.wordprocessingml.document] Last modified: April 7, 2021