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Top family judge allows access to murder scene data in paternity case

The President of the Family Division has allowed a local authority access to data from a murder scene in a paternity case.

In Re Z (Children), the local authority wished to determine if a man who is serving a life sentence for murder was the father of his victim’s children.

To do so, the council sought to use the DNA profiles taken from the blood samples found at the scene of the mother’s murder. DNA profiles map out a person’s genetic sequence.

In what he described as “particularly horrible circumstances”, Sir James Munby heard that the man, called ‘X’ in the judgment, said he was the father but refused to take a DNA test.

Sir James remarked that X’s position was “hard to understand”.

He added:

“The situation is an odd one. More usually a refusal accompanies a denial of paternity. In such a case the court may readily draw an adverse inference … But what is the court to do if, as here, the refusal accompanies an assertion of paternity?”

Sir James had to determine if the local authority’s request would violate section 45 of the Human Tissue Act 2004, which states that it is a crime for DNA to be analysed without consent, or Parts II and V of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984, which govern the proper procedure for gathering DNA evidence.

He made it clear that DNA samples were not being sought. The local authority was not asking for any blood from the scene; only the analysis of the various blood samples found. He additionally emphasised that no original profiles were being made available, but copies.

Sir James ruled that the local authority’s request did not offend section 45 of Human Tissue Act, nor Parts II and V of PACE, so he allowed it.

The ruling was not, however, without “stringent limitations and safeguards”. Sir James emphasised that the DNA profiles could not be used for any other purpose than to determine paternity and that they must be returned to the proper authority as soon as possible.

He concluded by saying his decision was made by considering the children first and foremost. He said that the question of paternity needed answering for their sake:

“[H]ow can the children’s life story work start, how can therapy or counselling be arranged, how is the children’s psychological integrity to be preserved, if the paternity issue is not resolved?”

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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