How some people could soon be able to check if their partner has a history of domestic violence

  • People in NSW may soon be able to find out if their partner has a history of violence.
  • The Right To Ask Scheme would be accessible online and via telephone.
  • South Australia already has such a scheme in place.

People in NSW could soon be able to phone or use an online portal to find out if their partner has a history of abusive or violent offending.

The NSW government says it will implement the scheme if it wins the March state election, giving police the ability to disclose information to a person about their partner’s previous related offending.

Announcing the Right To Ask Scheme on Monday, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said there were too many stories of women and men being hurt or murdered in circumstances where the perpetrators had a history of prior domestic and violent criminal offences that they didn’t know about.

“None of us want to see a loved one scarred by domestic violence and wishing they’d known their partner’s history sooner,” he said.

The initiative is known as a Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS).

What do domestic violence advocacy groups say?

Delia Donovan, CEO of Domestic Violence NSW said the scheme will make a difference as long as it’s developed in consultation with victim-survivors and support services.

“There’s some details to work out but we’re really positive about some of the steps that we’ll be taking in partnership with the premier,” she said.

“It will be significant if implemented safely and correctly under consultation.”

She said she wants to ensure that 150 services across the state were represented and their voices are heard and that victims survivors and their clients know how to access the scheme and know it’s safe to do so.

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“Anything that can save a life is effective.”

CEO of Full Stop Australia Hayley Foster welcomed the scheme.

“We’re absolutely thrilled and the New South Wales government does need to be congratulated for taking real, tangible steps and decisions to increase safety of women and those impacted by violence in this state.”

She said the major factor was accessibility.

“What’s going to make this really work is the fact that people will be able to make that application online or over the phone. It’ll be completely confidential. And so it’s not doesn’t feel like such a big step of going to the police station to ask for this information.”

What prompted it?

The scheme is based on

in the United Kingdom.

Introduced in 2014, the law was designed to provide information that might help protect someone from being a victim of domestic violence.

Clare Wood was a 36-year old woman from Yorkshire who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 2009.

She was unaware the man she was in a relationship with had a criminal history.

She had made a police statement and got a restraining order but although police were aware of her ex-boyfriend’s history of violence, at no point was Ms Wood made aware of it.

At the time, data protection laws meant former abusers were able to keep their criminal records confidential.

How does the scheme work in other states?

In South Australia, where a DVDS first began as a trial in 2018, more than 1000 people have sought information on their current or former partner’s criminal history.

The release of information is not immediate and can take up to two weeks.

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Sarah Wendt, a professor of Social Work at Flinders University in South Australia, said applicants were required to agree not to spread or misuse the information provided to them, which was presented verbally to them in a face-to-face meeting.

Sarah A woman wearing a black blazer.

Sarah Wendt, a professor of Social Work at Flinders University in South Australia Source: Supplied

In NSW, it is proposed the details provided by NSW Police would include the type of violent conviction a person has had and the date of any such conviction.

The method of communicating such information is being considered with input from domestic violence advocates, taking into account the safety and well-being of the applicants.

Has it helped people so far?

The NSW government ran a pilot program of the DVDS from mid-2016 to mid-2019. It reported after the first two years of the pilot that 50 people had learned of their partner’s violent past.

Dr Jane Wangmann, an associate professor in law, has written previously about the evaluation of the pilot program in the Oxley, Shoalhaven, Sutherland and St George areas.

She said as well as the potential for linking applicants with support services another potential positive aspect was that disclosures could validate an applicant’s experience.

However, she noted a number of concerns within the evaluation report.

These included that the return of “nothing to disclose” could provide an applicant with a false sense of security, or serve to de-legitimise their concerns about their partner’s behaviour.

Ms Wangmann also wrote that despite being described as ‘early intervention’, almost half of the applicants had been in a relationship with their current/former partner for a year or more and 38 per cent had already experienced physical violence.

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Ms Wendt said while she was not across any formal evaluation research on the South Australian program, anecdotally, many people considered it to be successful.

“The disclosure scheme has had more inquiries than what was ever anticipated and so that’s why our state government, together with Centacare have continued to fund it, because the demand is there,” she said.

Where could such schemes be implemented?

Similar laws have since been introduced in different parts of the

since Clare’s Law was legislated.

The NSW government is working on the details of the scheme and expect to implement it if voted back in at the next state election in March this year.

It plans to review the scheme after 12 months.

NSW Opposition leader Chris Minns said he supported the idea in principle, but wanted to see more detail before committing to such a scheme if his party were to form government.

“We do need to do something. One death in this area is just one too many,” he said.

“We do need to think of new initiatives and ideas.”

While Queensland considered introducing such a scheme, a 2017 Queensland Law Reform Commission report recommended against introducing a DVDS.

The report said there was a lack of evidence such schemes were effective in reducing domestic and family violence, strengthening protections and support for persons at risk or improving perpetrator accountability.

If you or someone you know is impacted by family and domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit

. In an emergency, call 000.

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