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Courts to order DNA testing to cut courtroom battles

MoJ funding for paternity testing is 'puzzling', says leading family charity

17 February 2015

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From September, family court judges in England will be able to order DNA tests to determine a child's parentage, according to the justice minister Simon Hughes.

The announcement follows the completion of two pilot programmes in Taunton and Bristol family courts, managed by Oxfordshire Family Mediation and Cafcass, which were set up following anecdotal evidence that courtroom arguments over parentage often led to significant delays in divorce cases.

Findings from the pilots suggest judges could be more confident when making decisions about children and parents would be more likely to follow the court's orders.

Justice minister Simon Hughes said: "I am determined that all cases involving children should be resolved quickly and wherever possible outside court. However, when they do come to court they should be resolved in a civilised way so that children don't suffer. Unambiguous and conclusive DNA tests will prove parentage and help to end acrimonious and embarrassing court battles."

David Nicholson, director of DNA Legal which was also involved in the pilots, added: “We’ve seen that nearly all individuals were very willing to participate in the testing, they want to take responsibility and understand the support testing can provide.”

However, a leading family charity argues that the fundamental issue of paternity should be established well before family dispute reaches a court room.

"The MoJ's central drive has been to try to keep family disputes out of court wherever possible, so it is puzzling that it now intends to invest money to promote a court-based DNA testing regime when in fact it is possible to establish paternity through a DNA test well before people get anywhere near a courtroom," commented Jane Robey, chief executive of National Family Mediation (NFM).

"It is not possible to make any sort of satisfactory settlement following family breakdown if fundamental issues like paternity are left hanging in the air. But it makes no sense to wait until a case reaches court - at the very end of a long and costly process - when it is possible to establish paternity or drug and alcohol use, much, much sooner.

The funding for DNA testing in private family law cases follows the introduction of some of the biggest reforms to the family justice system. But the latest MoJ announcement comes just weeks after the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) released its highly critical report into the ministry's reforms, which it claims has inhibited access to mediation for family law cases and that it cannot manage the impact of the increase in litigants in person.

John van der Luit-Drummond is legal reporter for Solicitors Journal

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Marriage & Civil partnership Courts & Judiciary