A leading family and child law expert in Wrexham has claimed a move to plough between £500,000 and £1m a year into paying for DNA tests to help prove legal parentage in the family court is reinventing the wheel and would not have been necessary if the government had not decimated the legal aid system two years ago.
John Lancaster, a partner with North Wales and Shropshire law firm GHP Legal, says the practice of family court judges ordering clinical tests to prove parentage has been around for decades, but it has had to be ‘rolled out’ again because of the withdrawal of legal aid for most family cases in 2013.
Mr Lancaster spoke out this week following the announcement that up to £1m funding will be available from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service to pay for DNA tests in England from September.
The move follows two pilot schemes in Taunton and Bristol, which were set up after anecdotal evidence suggested courtroom arguments, particularly about parentage, caused delays in divorce cases.
“In the past a family court judge would order a DNA test and the cost would be met on the parties’ Legal Aid certificates,” said Mr Lancaster. “Now, outside of care cases, this is generally not possible and the Court has to meet the cost itself.
“The legal aid cuts in 2013 resulted in a vast number of couples trying to represent themselves in court as they could not afford a solicitor to act on their behalf. This in turn caused cases to drag on longer, and court lists to get lengthier. Judges’ time is taken up explaining the law and the Court procedure to the parties because they lack legal representation. The overall effect is a lack of justice for the vulnerable and no saving of costs.”