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25 OCT 2013

X County Council v Trimega Laboratories and Others [2013] EWCC 6 (Fam)

This is a reported case from the county court, where alcohol test results that had led the local authority to reconsider its plan of rehabilitation to a mother's care were clarified by the laboratory following judicial direction. The laboratory made it plain that due to clerical error, a number that should have been recorded as 0.2% was in fact recorded as 1.6% - the latter number putting it near to the borderline of where one might be concerned that alcohol was being signficantly misused.  It certainly had given rise to concern that the mother's misuse of alcohol was not a thing of the past.

The company apologised to the mother and paid wasted costs. (One may recall that in the Bristol case, where there had been an error in test results, the failure of the firm to apologise to the mother because they feared risking their 'commercial interests' was one the Court took a dim view of, and that error has not been repeated.)

The child was returned to the mother's care under a supervision order and the judge was satisfied that this was human error and that the company had put measures in place to prevent its recurrance. The judge did however, consider that the case needed to be published, to be open and transparent about the error that had occurred and that it had been an error that almost led to a child being wrongly adopted.

'I do not say that the error made by Trimega amounted to a "flagrant reckless disregard" of its duties to the court and I accept it was a human error. I am reassured that the discovery of this error has lead Trimega to add a new procedure whereby a further specific check is made back to source material before a report is finalised and its staff understands the importance of the new measure. Trimega accepts that the mistake should not have occurred and is keen to make sure it does not happen again and it accepts that it was in breach of its duty to the court. Trimega accepts that the direct consequences were considerable upset and distress for the parents in this case, additional costs and not least a delay of four weeks for the child in being placed in her mother's care. Trimega has made its apology.

I have decided to publish this judgment because I consider that it is 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.'

The full judgment is available on Bailii.

Andrew Pack is a care lawyer at Brighton and Hove City Council and their in-house advocate. He has also represented parents in care proceedings. He is the creator and author of the Suesspicious Minds child law blog, which deals with public law, private law, social work, serious case reviews and Court of Protection cases -www.suesspiciousminds.com. Andrew can also be contacted via Twitter at @suesspiciousmin.

The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.

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