Solicitors

Challenges in child care proceedings

FTS have developed a service that meets the needs of the recently issued LAA guidance document (April 2013) and believe this service would offer significant benefits to family law firms and their local courts. This letter serves to introduce FTS and highlights why we would like talk to you about the important role FTS perform in child care proceedings.

Evidence for substance misuse is often flawed

There is considerable confusion and misunderstanding with regards to how drug and alcohol testing can be used to obtain reliable and relevant evidence, particularly in child care proceedings. This has been exacerbated over recent years due to the eagerness of testing laboratories to sell testing, which has resulted in it being oversimplified and inappropriately used. The perceived pressure from the LAA on budgets often means solicitors and local authorities are demanding the cheapest tests, resulting in tests that are not fit for purpose and testing laboratories taking shortcuts, with serious consequences. The complexity of obtaining reliable evidence from testing must not be underestimated and consequently it comes at a cost. It represents a significant challenge to the experts in this field and understandably, is outside the skill and expertise of the LAA, courts, barristers, solicitors and social services. Test results alone are meaningless unless the test profile was fit for purpose, they are in context of all influencing factors and each case is investigated thoroughly and interpreted by an expert with experience in the application of testing in child care proceedings.

This issue was highlighted in a letter from Her Honour Judge Annabel Carr QC at the Sheffield Combined Court, distributed through the South Yorkshire LFJB:

“The costs to be incurred in the preparation of the testing and reports are wholly necessary i.e. the expertise required is outside the skill and expertise of the court and those already involved as witnesses by reference to the published and accepted research upon which they can rely and of which the court has knowledge”.
“Guidance on the use of testing is therefore crucial and in the best interests of the family justice system. Not engaging with experts for advice on the most appropriate testing may result in inappropriate or misleading evidence, which may lead to the gravest miscarriage of justice imaginable – the wrongful removal of children from their families”.

Her Honour Judge Annabel Carr QC, Sheffield Combined Court.

The consequences of the inappropriate use of testing is becoming all too apparent, with the resulting reports produced for the court being frequently inconclusive, misleading, or worse still, they come to the wrong conclusion. FTS are increasingly being instructed by the courts to resolve the resulting confusion, to provide clear and reliable evidence to bring about a resolution to the case.

FTS take a different approach

FTS don’t sell cheap tests. If testing and reports are considered to be wholly necessary by the court, then the evidence produced must help to establish whether the misuse of drugs and/or alcohol could compromise the ability of a parent or guardian to provide a safe environment for a child. FTS ensure the correct tests, testing technology and comprehensive investigations are applied to every case. The test results interpretation is considered in context of all known potential influences so the conclusion is clear, easy to understand and reliable. Only by adopting this comprehensive approach to each case can we ensure that the court are able to make an informed decision, based on understanding if substance misuse could present a likely risk to the child.

Funding to obtain this evidence is not restricted if deemed necessary

There should be no reason to compromise on the quality of this evidence, since despite considerable pressure on the Legal Aid budget, the LAA have not placed any funding restrictions on testing.In their guidance document the LAA have confirmed:

“It is not necessary to apply for prior authority for drug and alcohol tests provided that the tests carried out reflect what has been directed in the Court Order”.

But to get the right testing funded it must be accurately specified in the order:

“Funding will only be provided for the tests specified in the Court Order”

The LAA must not be allowed to influence the quality of evidence derived from testing, particularly when it is outside their area of expertise and particularly given the potential consequences. However, this is happening every day and as a result the court is unable to make decisions or the wrong decisions are made. Furthermore LAA’s tactics are being counterproductive, resulting in wasted time and unwittingly, wasted public funds. Forensic Testing Service have a new approach to solve this problem and are making a difference. I would welcome the opportunity to meet with you and your colleagues to discuss how FTS can work with your firm to assist in providing the best services for your clients.

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