In a few months family court judges will have the power to order DNA testing to determine a child’s biological parents, helping to avoid ‘acrimonious and embarrassing’ court battles, according to the government. Justice Minister Simon Hughes announced the change following two pilot schemes, which showed that the change could mean judges are more confident in their decisions, and that parents may be more likely to follow court orders if they are supported with scientific evidence. In a statement, 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.” The move has been generally welcomed by those working in the area. Georgina Hamblin, Director at leading family law firm Vardags, said: “DNA testing is a long established tool in private family law cases. Indeed it is a route by which many parents have been forced to accept responsibilities that they may otherwise have successfully shirked.” Liz Cowell, family lawyer at Slater and Gordon, said: “This will assist in those cases where mothers try to allege that the father has no right to contact because he is not the natural parent. We have experienced situations where we act for a mother and the father says he wants contact with his child, but he will not pay maintenance as he is not the father.” Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS), which currently helps over 140,000 children going through care or adoption proceedings, is funding the scheme with between £500,000 and £1m a year. Christine Banim, National Service Director of CAFCASS, said: “We know that protracted court cases are very rarely in the best interests of children. The evaluation from the pilot in Avon and Somerset has shown that public funding for DNA testing can mean earlier determination of some cases which is much better for children. Cafcass looks forward to rolling out national provision of DNA testing in family cases.”

Author: Alice Wheatley

Alice is a journalism student at Winchester University – and a reporter for the JusticeGap

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