More than a slip ‘twixt cup and lip
25 October 2013
X Local Authority v Trimega Laboratories and others  EWCC 6 (Fam) – read judgment
Technical evidence can sometimes be crucial to judicial decisions and this case shows how dramatic the consequences are for a family if evidence is unreliable. If the respondent in this case had not put probity before its commercial interests, a mother would have been deprived of the care of her child. Hence the importance of publishing the judgment.
The case arose out applications by the parents, a child and the child’s guardian to care proceedings for wasted costs orders against Trimega Laboratories. In short, the care proceedings had been brought for a number of reasons foremost of which was the mother’s “excessive drinking”. In March 2013 the mother said she had been abstinent from alcohol since August 2012. But in July 2013 a blood alcohol test report from Trimega suggested that she had been drinking. Her abstinence was a crucial factor in the plan for rehabilitation of the child to her care, and had it not been for this test result a final order would have been made on 25 July 2013 and the child returned to her.
After a number of consequent hearings it transpired that there had been a mistake and the actual level had not been indicative of excessive alcohol consumption. Trimega admitted the error and in August the child was returned to her mother’s care. Trimega apologised and agreed to pay the costs which related to the unnecessary court hearings following its erroneous evidence. The only issue remaining was whether judgment should be published. All parties save Trimega sought publication. Her Honour Judge Willliams (in the Principal Registry of the Family Division) decided to publish this judgment because she considered it was in the public interest to do so:
The family courts should be as open and transparent as possible to improve public confidence and understanding. In this case expert evidence was relied upon and if the mistake had remained undiscovered it is probable, given the history in this case, that it would have led to the adoption of the child instead of rehabilitation to care of her parent. Close scrutiny of expert evidence is needed and all the surrounding circumstances have to be considered in a situation such as this where the interpretation of test results was so important and influential.
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