Clampdown on 'unreliable' paternity testing

If you're a word nut, you may have noticed that the title for this entry has unreliable in single quotes, not double--this means the title is in UK English, not American English. So, there's no clampdown in the US, but one may occur in the UK, according to an article today in the Times online.

This is an interesting development to me because of my entries lately on paternity testing and because the company under British fire bills itself as "is the world's largest and most experienced private DNA testing laboratory. . . [performing] . . . 3 out of 4 private DNA paternity tests in the United States and . . . the DNA testing provider for over 900 affiliated partners in 168 countries."

The problem? Cases where testing results could not be relied upon. According to the article in the Times Online:

Concern about the reliability of paternity tests has been raised after the High Court heard that one leading testing service lost vital details in 122 cases, which meant that the findings could not be relied upon.

[The company] admitted that photographs of sample donors had been lost from case files containing the results of the tests, meaning that the link between the two could no longer be assured.

Judge Anthony Hayden, QC, lifted the secrecy rules surrounding family law cases to make a public judgment expressing his concern and to issue rules for testing companies.

“This is a company that has been widely instructed by the legal profession in whom members of the public and those who have parental responsibility for children have reposted a high degree of trust and confidence,” he said in the judgment.

He accused [the company] of a systematic failure and said that “procedural and professional deficiencies that have been identified . . . would have made it quite impossible for any court to rely on its conclusions.”

[The company] told the court that it had addressed the problems and was seeking accreditation.

Judge Hayden said that a second paternity testing service also provided confusing evidence in the case involving the welfare of eight children. [Company 2], which is on the government-approved list, reported that there was good evidence that two of the children were likely to be half-siblings. When a third company, [company 3], was asked to repeat the tests it concluded that there was no likely relationship. [Company 2] then confirmed the results from [company 3] and blamed unclear instructions from a lawyer for the confusion, saying that it had not been asked to consider the likelihood that the children had no relationship.

Judge Hayden said: “The experience of this hearing has been to underscore the need for greater clarity in relation to the terms of instruction to DNA experts and the need to ensure that suitably approved specialists are instructed.”

He ruled that DNA testing services should provide clear information about the meanings of their results in layman’s language and should provide details of all possible genetic relationships, not just those suggested by the instructing lawyers.

Mr Hayden concluded: “If ever a case illustrated the need for strict regulation and accreditation of those companies which undertake this work, this is the case.”

The Ministry of Justice had to remove half of the paternity testing services from its accredited list after a review in 2006 revealed that five did not have up-to-date evidence that they met the minimum criteria.

The US, although it has regulations on laboratories and how they conduct their testing, has no government-approved paternity testing services.

Goodness, are we behind the UK in such legal matters?

Marie Godfrey, PhD



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