Police told to warn people if their partner has a record of domestic violence as first part of law rethink.

Justice Minister Amy Adams has told police to revise their guidelines so they can secretly warn people if their partner has a history of violent abuse.

Ms Adams said she was waiting to see how well a United Kingdom law went before introducing measures that would allow people to go to the police themselves to find out whether their partner had convictions for abuse.

However, as a "sensible first step" she had asked police to review their operating guidelines so they could notify people if their partners had a record of domestic abuse.

Ms Adams will not rule out following suit with the United Kingdom, where the law allows somebody to get police to check the criminal record of their own partner as well as allowing people to check on the partners of their friends and family if they have concerns.

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However, she had reservations about whether people would use it. "So a woman who wants to check out a new partner can rock up to police and say, 'Before I shack up with this guy, does he have a record of abuse?' You've got to ask yourself, how often is that going to happen. Can you imagine after a third date, you sort of diary it in, 'I'll nip down to the police and see if he has a record'."

She said giving police the power to offer that information could also include situations where people asked them, as well as where they found out someone was in a new relationship.

But privacy issues were involved in allowing people to request that information themselves. Currently, someone else's criminal record could only be shared with their consent. "So you've got to start thinking how you would draw that line where if someone is moving in with someone, how do you prove that's the case, what's the level of connection before they should be able to do it."

Privacy law specialist Kathryn Dalziel said she could think of situations where police should provide information but good protocols were needed. It could result in unforeseen consequences, such as the information being used publicly by the person who received it, she warned.

Civil liberties campaigner Michael Bott said such a power should be restricted especially in cases where convictions were years old.

"If someone with young children wants to set up a relationship and that new person has a horrible track record for domestic abuse or bashing children, then there is probably a social argument for police letting people know. You could argue social policy will trump a person's privacy rights in that situation.

"But if the person did something when they were very young and had reformed themselves, there is very little social gain in giving police the ability to pick at old scabs."

Ms Adams will launch a discussion document on family violence tomorrow, including an overhaul of the Domestic Violence Act and proposals to look at the barriers to information sharing between courts, police and government agencies.

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Domestic violence

A discussion document is due tomorrow. It is expected to cover:
• Possible new specific domestic/family violence offences to allow better tracking of family violence.
• More information sharing between police, courts and other agencies.
• Review of Domestic Violence Act.