As a person of science I sometimes find it hard to accept that, as far as the law is concerned, scientifically obtained evidence is not entirely determinative of a question. If science says the answer is X, then X is the answer, and that is the end of the matter. Of course, the law takes a slightly different view.
Take the recent case of Akyuz v Akyuz & Another for example. It concerned the issue of whether a Turkish man was the biological father of an English woman. DNA tests were undertaken in 2004, and one of them indicated a 99.9999% probability that the man was the woman’s father. Now, you might think that the woman need do no more to prove that the man was her father.
First of all for the man to be legally recognised as the woman’s father, either the matter should be recorded in an official document, such as a birth register, or a court of law must make a determination of the matter. If the latter there is then the issue of evidence. The results of the tests are of course admissible as evidence in English courts, and if they are found to be reliable then they will be conclusive. The problem is that word ‘if’. Although DNA tests are generally very reliable, it is still open to a party to the proceedings to challenge them, for example because of some issue with the samples, with the testing, or with the reporting of the results. Any such challenge must be investigated and decided by the court.
Unfortunately for the woman, back in 2004 the matter was left, and the ‘father’ died in 2016. I say unfortunately, because the father was apparently a fairly wealthy man, with an estate worth about US$5 million, and if the woman was legally his daughter she would be entitled under Turkish law to 15 per cent of that, which I calculate to be $750,000, or about £572,000.
So the woman brought proceedings in Turkey and England, essentially for the courts to determine the issue of her paternity.
Briefly, the facts were that the woman was born in England in 1978. Although of Turkish descent, she is a British citizen. At the time of her birth her mother was married to another man. Mr Justice Holman takes up the story:
“However, [the mother] has said in a statement that she rarely had sexual intercourse with her husband who was preoccupied by his business, and that she was, for about ten years spanning the conception and birth of the applicant, in a romantic and sexual relationship with the [man].”
The husband was named on the woman’s birth certificate as her father. He did not initially know of the mother’s affair, but when he found out he arranged for DNA tests, and divorced the mother when the results showed that he was not the father. The woman eventually found out about her parentage when she was about nineteen, after which the further DNA tests were carried out, as mentioned in the second paragraph, above.
After the woman issued proceedings, the question arose as to which court should determine the matter: the Turkish court or the English court. Mr Justice Holman decided that not only is Turkey not the more appropriate forum but that England is distinctly the more appropriate forum for deciding the issue. His reasons were that the primary witnesses, the woman and her mother, both live here; the DNA tests were carried out here; and in any event it was not clear whether the Turkish courts were time-barred from determining the issue. Accordingly, he gave directions for the English court to determine the matter as swiftly as possible.
Of course, the Turkish courts will still have to deal with any claim that the woman makes against the estate, and there is no guarantee that they will accept any declaration of parentage by the English court. That, as Mr Justice Holman said, is a matter for the Turkish courts.
The full report of Akyuz v Akyuz & Anor can be found here.
Image by Jennifer Morrow via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence