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Claire's Law - Part Two

A while ago I wrote about Claire's Law (opens in new window), which allows a woman (in the majority of cases I suspect) to enquire of the police about their partners criminal record if the woman or others have concerns about the new boyfriend.

In reply, Anonymous wrote this:
"Abusers can convince you that it was a one off and blame it on the alcohol. They might even put friends and family reassure you that it was out of character. People do not take DV as seriously as they supposed to. That new law can be a life savior. I don't agree that someone has to go through the police to check it. I think it should be public record."
 First, I agree about the manipulation he or she mentions.  It can be quite astounding what some of these people can make others believe.  Many years ago I was junior counsel in a trial where the defendant had convinced ALL of the parents on his street to allow him to take "modelling" photographs of their teenage daughters.  Needless to say the pictures were indecent but the point is that the parents were convinced that this man who lived alone, hardly went out and lived off his modest wage was in fact an influential fashion photographer in the employ of numerous well known fashion publications.

The interesting point for me is the final two sentences, which I have underlined.  I admit that I had not previously considered the possibility of giving open access to criminal records.  About 10-years ago a local authority in Essex decided to name and shame offenders.  As a result photographs of local crooks began appearing around towns. At least one person sued and the High Court made the authority stop their campaign.

What are the implications of making criminal records publicly available?  Proceedings in criminal courts are matters of public record and, in most cases, can be reported in the press.  It does then seem a little incongruous that the Times can report on Tuesday that John Smith has been convicted of having indecent images of children but on Wednesday a potential employer has to apply to the authorities to find out if he is suitable to work with children.

If I applied for a job tomorrow and happened to have a conviction then I may well be required to disclose it to my potential employer.

Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame is passionately in favour of everyone being open about their lives to an extent that many of us would baulk at.  I always thought his view was a rather naive, almost childish, one.  But, part of me thinks that Anon's comment about criminal records being freely and openly available to the public makes some sense... maybe it's just the heat.

I wonder if anybody else has a view, either in favour of open access or against.


  1. I have a criminal record, I certainly don't try and hide it, if anything I'm proud of it.

    If a woman wants to go to the police behind your back, then I think it says a lot more about her than it does you.

    1. Okay, I have to ask. What is your criminal record that you're so proud of??

    2. Computer hacking, or technically offenses under the Computer Misuse Act and the Telecommunications Act.

      It taught me a healthy disrespect for the law and a slight distaste for those who live by the letter of it rather than relying on their own moral compass.

    3. Ed (not Bystander)30 July 2013 at 17:23

      And what did you do specifically that led to these charges?

  2. Mr Zuckerberg has made a great deal of money by encouraging people to share their private information - with his company. "Naive" is not the word I would use!

    In theory there is a qualitative difference between public record and confidential information. However, in practice, it's more of a continuum, based on the cost (financial or time) of obtaining that information. Public information can be obtained for the cost of trawling through the relevant sources, whereas to obtain "private" information may require the use of illegal techniques which - presumably! - are therefore more expensive.

    There's a huge practical difference between being able to obtain details of somebody's conviction by grovelling through several year's worth of court records, and by typing their name into a search box. The increasing reach of capable search engines into data which was formerly public in theory, but in practice so expensive to search that few bothered, is a significant shift in the balance of power between state, society and the individual. IMO this has not been properly understood.

    [Is it reasonable to treat the risk of going to prison simply as a cost overhead? I'm assuming it is, and that's a fairly Machiavellian assumption. Nevertheless, as eg. the Phone hacking scandal shows, there is usually somebody willing to chance it if the rewards are high enough, and they believe that they will get away with it.]

    1. Yep he did make a fortune from sharing personal data but I think that his views on openness were genuinely held held. It's those views I meant as naive not the consequences of them and the later use he put the information to.

      Does making criminal convictions freely available represent a shift in the balance of power? The state has been able to access these records at the click of a button for at least the last twenty-years. Opening up the criminal records would allow us all to see what our politicians have been up to, for example. In that way you could argue that it would hold the politicians to account.

  3. There is a danger that such information, if too easily available, becomes susceptible to abusive misuse by ignorant and bigoted vigilantes who have a personal axe to grind. An example is the case a few years ago of a paediatrician being attacked by people who thought it was the same as a paedophile. Perhaps ignorance is bliss.

    1. The trouble with the paediatrician/paedophile story though is that the people who were involved in that were probably too stupid to use a computer.

      You do make a good point though that if criminal records were freely available it could lead to retribution attacks.

  4. Claire's law should only apply to (1) unspent convictions - not acquittals or allegations.

    It should be available to a man whose ex sets up with another man, if there are children involved - his right to be sure that she is not bringing a man who is a danger to his children into their lives trumps her right to be shot of him.

    And the subject of the inquiry should be told before the answer is given so that as the case may be he can say "She is not my partner, she is a rival at work/a journo on the local rag/a nosy busybody" or, to the inquirer "If that is how much you trust me, our relationship is over".

    Anyone disagree?

  5. The big problem that I'd have with this (not personally I hasten to add) is that once something is out in public these days you can't get it back. It's out there somewhere forever.

    Even if the conviction is overturned or quashed on appeal, even if it is spent, even if it was erroneously recorded in the first place. Can't be undone.

    I would also worry about the amount of detail published. You'd have to put out rather a lot to avoid confusion with other people of the same name in the same town for example.

    Sounds fraught with difficulty and unintended consequences to me.


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