Weekly Family Law Update July 4, 2021

Drug tests, Cafcass and child maintenance

Police investigating drug tests

It has emerged that Greater Manchester Police are investigating the possible falsification of thousands of drug tests at a forensic laboratory. The tests, which analysed hair, blood, and urine for quantities of illegal substances, were used in criminal, family, coronial and employment cases.

The investigation has uncovered 27,000 test reports which appear to have been affected.

The testing companies are said to have engaged in data manipulation practices for the purposes of ensuring rapid accreditation by the regulator, by which the companies could provide their forensics services, thereby gaining commercial advantage over competitors. The object was therefore to raise the value of the companies by gaining a larger market share.

This data manipulation dates back almost a decade and takes a variety of forms, including copying results and quality assurance data from one sample and pasting it into another, as well as manipulating quality controls and suitability tests, and falsifying identification of drugs and validation data.

The investigation came to light when the police force applied to the High Court for access to materials relating to the alleged data manipulation, for use in an ongoing criminal investigation.

Cafcass publishes domestic abuse improvement plan

The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (‘Cafcass’), the organisation that looks after the interests of children involved in family proceedings, has published a new plan to improve its practice with children and families who have experienced domestic abuse.

The plan has been developed in response to the serious findings made last year by an expert panel set up by the Ministry of Justice to look into how the family courts protect children and parents in private law children cases involving domestic abuse.

Developed in partnership with domestic abuse charities and survivors of domestic abuse, the plan provides key priorities to strengthen Cafcass’s practice with children and families who have experienced domestic abuse, being clearer about how they explain their decisions to them, and improving the effectiveness of their management oversight.

Cafcass Chief Executive Jacky Tiotto commented:

“We are committed, alongside other agencies in the family justice system, to improving all of our work with children and families who have experienced domestic abuse. It’s been so important to build on what we heard from the Ministry of Justice’s Expert Panel on Harm, and our own subsequent work to review and understand the quality of our practice and improvements that we need and want to make. We hope that the learning from our listening over the last year is explicit in our improvement plan and our wider learning and development programme. Children and families who experience our support and help deserve the very best from us and we want to offer advice to the family court that promotes the best interests of children and secures their safety.”

Improvements to Child Maintenance Service proposed

The Department for Work and Pensions has launched a consultation seeking views on a number of proposed legislative changes aimed at modernising and improving the Child Maintenance Service (‘CMS’).

The proposals would enable:

1. Unearned income held by HM Revenue and Customs to be included in CMS calculations alongside paying parents’ earned income, thereby preventing paying parents from organising their financial affairs to reduce their financial liability for their children.

2. Evidential requirements for self-employed parents to be eased where their income has been reduced, thereby ensuring that they don’t pay more than they can afford.

3. Small volumes of low value debt to be extinguished where the value of the debt is substantially less than the cost of collecting it.

4. Arrears to be extinguished where child maintenance has been deducted from a parent’s earnings where their employer has gone into administration and the CMS is unable to recover the outstanding arrears from the trustee handling the employer’s insolvency.

5. All CMS notifications to be sent, received and accessed digitally, where that is the customer’s preferred method.

6. The following organisations to provide information to the CMS when requested to do so in a timely manner: private pension providers, academy proprietors, the Motor Insurers’ Bureau and all types of companies that offer, promote or sell investment management services or facilitate share trading.

The consultation closes on the 6th of August.