The High Court has ordered publication of a judgement regarding unnecessary adoption proceedings.
X Local Authority v Trimega Laboratories & Others concerned the alcoholic mother of a toddler now approaching her second birthday. Both the local authority and the girl’s legal guardian sought to have the youngster taken into care and placed for adoption. However, at what would have been the final hearing, the court was told the mother had succeeded in giving up alcohol and had been sobert for several months. The adoption proceedings were therefore adjourned and plans for the child’s care were changed. She would now be gradually returned to her mother’s care.
However, shortly before the rescheduled hearing, the mother underwent a blood alcohol test, conducted by Trimega Laboratories, and this seemed to show that she had begun drinking again. The woman firmly denied this but the case was adjourned once more and the local authority’s plans changed back to adoption. Additional experts were also instructed to contribute to the continuing proceedings.
Trimega were asked to take a fresh look at their test results and when they did so the firm realised the reported results had been wrong and the mother had in fact tested negative for alcohol. The courts therefore returned the child to her. Trimega, meanwhile, agreed to cover the ‘wasted costs’ of the three unnecessary court hearings which had followed their erroneious initial results. These costs came to a total of £17,167.
Trimega objected to the publication of the judgement.
But sitting in the Family Division, Her Honour Judge Williams concluded:
“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”.