Z (A Child: committal proceeding): Now here’s an interesting little case. And slightly worrying, too.
Hair drug testing
I do recall from when I was practising that it was not at all uncommon in proceedings regarding arrangements for children that one parent would raise concerns that the other parent was taking (illegal) drugs. Of course, the court will investigate any such allegations, and may well order that the accused parent undergo hair drug testing.
Hair drug testing involves taking a sample of the individual’s hair and testing it for drug (or alcohol) abuse. Apart from being non-intrusive, hair testing has the advantage that it can provide a record of the individual’s drug usage (or not) over a period of months. Hair is fed by a blood supply, so substances that are circulating in the bloodstream can become incorporated into the growing hair, and obviously a length of hair may have been growing for some months.
And so to the case, Z (A Child: committal proceeding). It concerned child arrangements proceedings between the parents in relation to their child, ‘Z’.
The background to the case Z (A Child: committal proceeding) was as follows.
The parents’ relationship began in about January 2016. Unless I have missed it, the report of the case does not tell us when Z was born, but the parents separated in September 2018. Z remained living with the mother.
In December 2018 the father applied for a child arrangements order, seeking contact with Z.
The mother alleged that the father abused cocaine, and had had an addiction over a substantial period of years.
The matter went before the court in February 2019, for a first hearing dispute resolution appointment. The arrangement that was made, which was enshrined in a court order, was for Z to be made available for contact each Monday and alternative Saturdays. The contact was to be supported and there was to be a welfare report. The report was duly completed and filed in June 2019. It recommended that Z lived with the mother, and that supported contact continued, with the father, who had maintained that he had not taken drugs since September 2018, having to provide evidence of drug-free abstinence, by way of hair strand testing, over the course of 12 months.
At the dispute resolution appointment in June 2019, the father’s contact progressed from supported contact to contact in the community, with handovers taking place at a contact centre. The court directed that the father should undergo hair strand testing for cocaine for a period of three months, with the test results to be filed by the 1st of September.
The direction was not complied with, and the mother suspected that the father had cut his hair.
The father did arrange a hair strand test himself, and the report from the testing service was filed by his solicitors on the 20th of September. The report recorded that the father provided a sample of hair on the 6th of September, of 3.6cm in length, and the result of the test suggested that no substances were detected.
The length of the hair sample did not accord with observations by the mother in relation to the father’s hair length at contact handovers. The mother requested her solicitor to contact the testing service, to establish whether the report they received was legitimate.
It transpired that the report filed by the father was not the report prepared by the testing service. The report they prepared was actually dated the 26th of July and related to a sample taken on the 12th of July. The hair length was reported to be 1.5cm, and the report confirmed that the result was positive for cocaine, for the period covering the end of May 2019 to the end of June 2019. The father had clearly falsified the evidence.
Committal proceedings were instigated against the father, and these were the subject of the judgment. Sensibly, the father admitted what he had done, and showed true contrition.
Hearing the case, His Honour Judge Hughes emphasised the seriousness of the matter, and that it would normally attract an immediate custodial sentence. However, given the father’s response, he handed down a 12-month sentence of imprisonment, suspended for two years.
He also suggested that in future particular reports from drug test providers should be filed with the court directly, rather than through any other party.
You can find the full judgment on Z (A Child: committal proceeding) here.
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