DNA test pilot successful – testing to be rolled out nationwide
Family court judges will soon be able to order publicly funded DNA tests in private law cases as part of a bid to end acrimonious disputes that have worsened since legal aid was removed two years ago.
The funding for expert witnesses and for drug and alcohol testing as well as DNA testing was removed with the legal aid reforms introduced in April 2013. This has led to concerns that private family law cases are being delayed and complicated by a lack of meaningful evidence and that child welfare is in jeopardy as a result.
In response to this, the Ministry of Justice set up pilot schemes in Taunton and Bristol last year to fund DNA and drug and alcohol testing ordered by District Judges.
The pilot was begun because of widespread concerns that the removal of legal aid left many private law litigants unable to pay for the testing themselves. This in turn meant that court orders were often ignored because they were not based upon a true reflection of the facts of a case – meaning many cases were returning to court.
The pilot was found to successfully address all these difficulties. Professionals working in the pilot areas overwhelmingly found that child welfare was improved when the court funded testing was available. A Cafcass officer in one of the pilot areas was quoted in the Process Evaluation of the Private Law Children Cases Expert Evidence Pilot report saying “I think that what works well is that we can now do assessments that courts can now believe in because we have got the factual evidence there to use rather than somebody saying it maybe is an issue.”
It is likely that the courts will also soon be able to order publicly funded drug and alcohol testing too – but the pilot revealed more coordination was needed between the different agencies beforehand.
Simon Hughes the Justice Minister said in response tot he report: ‘I am determined that all cases involving children should be resolved quickly and wherever possible outside court.