PEOPLE in Essex will now be able to find out if their partners have a previous history of domestic abuse as 'Clare's Law' comes into effect.
Essex Police have today launched the new scheme as part of an effort across England and Wales to prevent deaths such as that of Clare Wood, who it was named after.
Ms Wood was murdered by ex-partner George Appleton at her Salford home in February 2009, not knowing he had a history of violence against women.
Jeanette Goodwin, 47, was murdered in similar circumstances by her ex-partner Martin Bunch in a frenzied knife attack at her home on Quebec Avenue, Southend, in 2011.
Bunch was found guilty of murder at Chelmsford Crown Court in August 2012 and jailed for life.
Temporary Det Chief Insp Gary Biddle said officers at Essex Police had been pushing for the scheme for some time.
He said: "This law will provide people with the information they need to escape an abusive situation before it ends in tragedy.
"This is something that we have been pushing for in Essex as it will mean that more people can make informed decisions about their relationships and escape if necessary.
"We deal with 80 calls a day involving domestic abuse and any new scheme which can help those people has got to be a good thing.
"Hopefully this will prove another effective tool alongside other initiatives such as our establishment of a domestic abuse crime unit and the planned introduction of domestic violence prevention notices and orders.”
The scheme is divided into two parts. A 'Right-to-Ask' will allow people to apply to Essex Police for information on a partner's history of domestic violence while a 'Right-to-Know' will compel the force to proactively disclose information in certain circumstances.
It will also be open to anyone to use, not just those in a relationship, allowing those with concerns a friend or family member may be at risk to intervene.
Det Chief Insp Biddle added: "A great deal of thought has gone into how this law will work and to ensuring the release of information is appropriate. A panel of police, probation services and other agencies will check every request to ensure it is necessary before trained police officers and advisers will then provide support to victims.
"But it is important to recognise that just providing this information is not enough. The police will be working with our partner agencies and charities to make sure that people can make an informed choice about what they should do next.”
People can contact the police through any means, such as visiting a police station, phoning 101, or speaking to an officer or PCSO on the street and, in an emergency, calling 999.
Officers will then run checks and conduct an initial risk assessment to establish if there are any immediate concerns.
If officers believe someone is at risk and in need of protection from harm, they will take immediate action, but no disclosure of information will take place at this stage unless it is necessary for the immediate protection of the potential victim.
Det Chief Insp Biddle said: "If police checks show that the individual has a record of abusive offences, or there is other information to indicate a person is at risk, we will consider sharing this information with the person or people best placed to protect the potential victim.
"That doesn’t necessarily mean giving information to the person who first raised the concern as it may be more appropriate for someone else to receive the information - such as the victim directly.
"The maximum time that it will take to complete the whole process, and disclose information, if necessary, is 35 days but we will act immediately if at any point we consider someone is at immediate risk and in need of protection.”
He added police will also tell people if the checks do not show there is a pressing need to make a disclosure.
"This may be because the individual does not have a record of abusive offences or there is no information held to indicate they pose a risk of harm to the potential victim,” he said.
"But if that person is showing worrying behaviour we can still provide advice and support.
"Subject to the condition that the information is kept confidential, people can use the information to keep the potential victim and themselves safe, use the information to keep any children involved in the situation safe, ask what support is available and ask for advice on how to keep themselves and others safe.
"But even if we don’t have any information to give you we can still offer you advice on how to protect someone from violent behaviour and how to recognise the warning signs of domestic abuse.”
More information on Clare’s Law and the support available for victims of domestic abuse is available at http://www.essex.police.uk