About the Family Law Week blog

The Family Law Week Blog is a companion site to Family Law Week. It complements the news, cases and articles published on Family Law Week with additional comment and coverage of the wider aspects of family law.

The Blog is edited by Jacqui Gilliatt, of 4 Brick Court and Lucy Reed, of St Johns Chambers.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

DNA Testing & the instruction of 'experts'

The main website has published a case dealing with DNA evidence: F (Children) (DNA Evidence) [2007] EWHC 3235 (Fam)

The judgment is of interest because it sets out some conclusions arising from difficulties and errors in the DNA testing. During the course of the proceedings, involving several adults and children, it had emerged that there was doubt over the parentage of the children involved. The judge therefore ordered that DNA testing should be undertaken. In the event, it was found that the firm chosen to undertake the testing had procedural defects that meant that the result could not be relied on. A result of a second test, carried out by another firm, was challenged by the alleged parents and so the judge allowed a third test from a third different firm. Their results supported that challenge and the second firm, on review, changed their opinion to agree with the third firm.

In the light of these difficulties, the judge issued this judgment in open court to highlight some of the issues involved in DNA testing and in paragraph 32 sets out a series of points concerning the appointment of DNA testers and what a letter of instruction should contain. He also describes the mechanics of DNA testing, how the difference in opinons between the DNA testers arose and makes some points about their expert role as part of the wider proceedings.

I was fascinated by the case which I think is the first to consider these issues having recently had a case involving two different firms concluding that two different men were the father of the same child. I do not know whether DNA Diagnostics was involved in my case but practitioners would be well advised to read the judgment in full before deciding to instruct or consent to the instruction of any particular DNA testing service. DNA Diagnostics is not on the MoJ accredited list for DNA testing and the court held it should never have been instructed. The Judge was also concerned that the firm's literature gave the misleading impression that it was a large national outfit when it fact it operated behind a number of PO boxes and that it was accredited. The reported case was further complicated by the second two firms instructed appearing to disagree with each other radically when in fact they did not. A salutary lesson in the need to dig a little deeper when instructing experts (see also this earlier post on City University's research on lawyers' use of experts (3/4 fail to check qualifications) and then to be careful exactly what you ask them!

For some scientific background on DNA see DNA From the Beginning .

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