Under a new domestic violence disclosure scheme, people in NSW may soon be able to access information detailing whether their partner has a history of abuse or domestic violence offending.
The ‘Right To Ask’ scheme will provide NSW Police with the power to disclose information about a domestic violence offender to potential victims of domestic abuse.
The initiative is based on the United Kingdom’s domestic violence disclosure scheme, which is known as ‘Clare’s Law’ – named after 36-year-old Clare Wood who was murdered by a man she met via Facebook, who had an incredibly lengthy history of domestic violence.
The law was introduced in the UK in 2014, with members of the public able to apply to the police to obtain information regarding potential domestic violence offenders.
The police are also able to publicly disclose information, in certain circumstances, even without specific requests.
In NSW, a person who may be at risk of domestic violence will be able to apply through an online portal or phone line, to access information regarding their partner.
The NSW Police will need to approve the disclosure of any information before it is provided.
The service will also provide opportunities for referral to domestic violence support services, where it is assessed as required.
The Government has assured that strict privacy controls will be enforced, including criminal penalties to be introduced for malicious applications.
“There are simply too many heartbreaking stories of women and men being seriously hurt or murdered in circumstances where the perpetrators had a history of prior domestic and violent criminal offences that they didn’t know about,” noted Premier Dominic Perrottet.
The impetus behind the current scheme can largely be attributed to the tragic death of 31-year-old teacher, Dannielle Finlay-Jones.
Jones was allegedly murdered by 33-year-old Ashley Gaddie, who was serving a two-year community corrections order for stalking/intimidating and choking another woman at the time of Jones’ death.
It has also been revealed that Gaddie has had apprehended violence orders taken out by at least five women since 2016.
It was speculated initially that the pair had met online.
This matter currently remains before the courts and is next listed on 3 March 2023 to determine issues regarding a forensic procedure (i.e., a DNA swab) being performed on Gaddie.
A similar disclosure scheme was trialled in NSW in 2016 in the ‘pilot’ areas of Sutherland, Oxley, Shoalhaven, and St George.
However, this scheme involved those at risk making an application to police, who would then undertake a risk assessment and criminal history check. Once this was completed, police would inform the applicant of a time and date to be provided with the outcome.
The disclosure of information was required to be completed verbally at a police station, or at another agreed safe place.
This scheme had a relatively low uptake of applicants and was deemed by many advocates as an ineffective use of funds.
However, Deputy Premier and Minister for Police Paul Toole sought to emphasise that: “the dating landscape has shifted considerably since then with more and more people accessing dating apps and dating outside known friendship circles,
“We want to take the lessons from the experience in NSW and other jurisdictions around the world to develop this scheme with input from safety advocates that empowers people who may be at risk of domestic violence.”
The NSW government confirmed that the scheme will be implemented across the state if it wins the March state election.
Once introduced, it will be subject to a review of its effectiveness after 12 months.
In Australia, it has been reported that, on average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner. Furthermore, one in four women will experience some form of physical or sexual violence by a current or former intimate partner.
The determination of whether an offence will be considered a ‘domestic violence’ offence is outlined in the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007 (NSW).
An offence will be considered a ‘domestic violence’ offence if it involves persons in a domestic relationship, and is a:
- Personal violence offence (for example: assault, choking, sexual touching, sexual assault, murder),
- An offence that arises from substantially the same circumstances as those from which a personal violence offence has arisen, or
- An offence which is intended to coerce or control the person against whom it is committed or to cause that person to be intimidated or fearful.
Domestic relationships are defined by the Act to include married or divorced persons, de-facto or ex-de-facto partners, those who are in or have had an intimate relationship, relatives, and those living or have lived in the same household.
Other relationships deemed ‘domestic’ include those living or who have lived together as long-term residents in the same residential facility, and relationships which involve ongoing paid or unpaid care of the other person.
In the case of First Nations people, domestic relationships include persons who are or have been a part of the extended family or kin of the other person, according to the Indigenous kinship system of the person’s culture.
If a person pleads guilty or is found guilty of an offence and the court is satisfied that the offence was a domestic violence offence, it is able to direct that the offence be recorded on the person’s criminal record as a domestic violence offence.