Bar Council backs MoJ U-turn on funding for DNA parentage testing

23 February 2015

The Ministry of Justice's decision to reinstate funding for DNA tests that determine parentage in family court cases was the right thing to do, says the Bar Council after Justice Minister Simon Hughes announced funds for between £500,000 and £1m a year to pay for tests. 

The Bar Council points out that prior to legal aid cuts, those who could not afford it were usually eligible for legal aid and such DNA testing was covered. Now that the financial eligibility threshold is even lower than before and private law disputes are not included anyway, many people involved in these types of disputes cannot afford the DNA tests and judges were having to hold 'finding of fact' hearings, wasting enormous amounts of court time, in order to establish paternity. 

As a result, this week, the Ministry of Justice announced that funding will be made available from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service from September 2015. 

The Bar Council said the move, while welcomed, showed that the Ministry's cuts had been made without properly considering the consequences for parents and families in the UK. 

Alistair MacDonald QC, chairman of the Bar, said: "It is rare for the Ministry of Justice to own up to mistakes and backtrack, so we welcome the fact the Ministry has recognised the impact this has had on families faced with the often distressing prospect of having to determine who the father of a child is. What the Ministry has acknowledged is that by removing funding for these DNA tests, family court cases were taking longer and costing more because many parents could not afford the DNA test fee. 

"These kinds of issues were raised by the Bar Council and others back in 2012 when the proposals were put forward. Instead of listening then, the Ministry of Justice is now having to make a U-turn, while many families have had to pay the price until now for that oversight. 

"We are seeing more and more evidence that the cuts to family and other parts of the civil justice system, as reflected by the changes introduced by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO), were flawed. In November 2014, the National Audit Office reported that the Government did not 'think through enough' the impact of the LASPO cuts, while the Public Accounts Committee reported this month it was "deeply disturbing that the Ministry of Justice's changes to civil legal aid were based not on evidence but on an objective to cut costs as quickly as possible. The evidence is mounting and perhaps this latest move by the Ministry of Justice is a sign that the penny is finally dropping." 

The huge impact of cuts to civil justice have been documented, not only by the NAO and PAC, but also by the Bar Council's report LASPO: One Year On which showed a large increase in the number of people attempting to represent themselves in civil court cases, as well as an inability for those entitled to 'exceptional funding' for cases to access that funding. 

ENDS

Notes to editors:

1. Further information is available from the Bar Council Press Office on 020 7222 2525 and Press@BarCouncil.org.uk.

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  • The highest standards of ethics, equality and diversity across the profession, and

  • The development of business opportunities for barristers at home and abroad.

3. The General Council of the Bar is the Approved Regulator of the Bar of England and Wales. It discharges its regulatory functions through the independent Bar Standards Board