"Everyone working in ‘family justice’ is operating at the ‘extent of their capacity" - Sir Andrew McFarlane.
It's no secret that everyone working in 'family justice' is operating at the 'extent of their capacity', a fact highlighted earlier this year by Sir Andrew McFarlane, the president of the Family Division of the High Court and the most senior family court judge in England and Wales.
With the volume of work at an all time high, courts rammed with cases and everyone feeling the pressure to deliver at the right time, right now or asap, when a Judge hands you a court order, the last thing you want to do is turn around and say “what do I do now?”.
The good thing about court orders is they contain pretty much all the information you need when requesting a hair drug test. It’s mostly a matter of reading from the court order to answer the questions from a drug testing laboratory so they can give you a quote.
However, it’s important to remember that you’re the one in the driving seat, and it’s not a case of simply asking “Can you do a hair drug test to check for cocaine use in the last 3 months?”. There's a bit more to it than that.
The results of the test can be the difference between a parent gaining or losing access to their child. You need to take this opportunity to assess whether a laboratory is truly qualified to carry out the hair drug test and can produce results that will hold up in court as evidence.
Here’s 5 questions you need to ask a hair drug testing lab when requesting a test.
1) What is your experience with hair drug testing?
Different labs have varying amounts of experience with hair drug testing. There are some labs that have only been in the industry for a few years, and there are others like Cansford Laboratories who’ve been in the industry for over 20 years.
Hair drug testing methods have developed significantly over the years. Drug testing labs who’ve been in the industry a long time and have conducted a significant amount of tests are more likely to have seen or been involved with the development of new testing techniques that deliver greater accuracy in drug testing. They’re also more likely to have seen the mistakes being made in the industry and have learnt how to avoid them.
Yet, experience in drug testing shouldn’t be tied exclusively to length of time in the industry. Family court cases vary from case to case, and each case has its own specific circumstances that often complicate matters. That’s why you need to consider a drug testing lab’s experience across different case types giving you confidence that they can handle the specifics of your case.
2) Has your drug testing procedure ever been challenged in court?
There’s no point working with a lab that has 10 years’ experience in the industry if half of the tests they’ve conducted have been challenged in court.
The hair drug testing procedure is very sensitive, and there are plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong. You need to make sure that you work with a lab that is able to protect the integrity of the hair sample right throughout the process, and produce results that can hold up in court.
3) Do you have UKAS ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation for the drug(s) the court has ordered testing for?
Many labs in the UK are subject to detailed scrutiny to achieve accreditation in drug testing. The United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) is the sole national accreditation body for the United Kingdom.
UKAS is recognised by the government to assess against internationally agreed standards, organisations that provide certification, testing, inspection and calibration services.
One of the most significant accreditations a drug testing lab should hold is the ISO/IEC 17025. Essentially, the ISO/IEC 17025 contains the general requirements to be met by laboratories to demonstrate they maintain an adequate quality assurance system for the tests they conduct.
However, a lab that claims to be ISO/IEC 17025 accredited may only be accredited to test for specific drug groups and not others. For example, a lab may be accredited specific drug groups i.e. cocaine group (Benzoylecgonine, Cocaine etc.) but not other drug groups.
You may also wish to check the lab has the additional LAB51 requirement through UKAS ISO17025: 2017. The new standard gives further reassurance to courts that the laboratory has rigorous processes in place and their test results will stand up to scrutiny if examined.
You need to make sure that the lab is accredited to test for all of the drugs that a court has ordered testing for.
4) Do you participate in any proficiency schemes?
Labs that are signed up to proficiency schemes are regularly assessed to ensure their testing procedures are up to scratch.
As part of these schemes, the test provider will send a series of participating labs a sample (hair, urine etc.) with the same chemical composition and ask each lab to test the sample and compile a report.
Each lab is then assessed on their accuracy in assessment, the results of which can help labs to identify areas within their procedures where they can improve and boost the quality of their testing procedure.
5) How successful has your participation in these proficiency schemes been?
Where a lab participates in a proficiency scheme, the trend you want to see is an increase in accuracy of their findings with each test.
This demonstrates that the lab is learning from their mistakes and actively trying to improve their testing procedures, giving you assurances that they’re more likely to produce test results that can hold up in court as evidence.
Ultimately, choosing the right lab to conduct a hair drug test can have important and serious implications for your case and your client. Start taking the necessary steps to find out if a lab is truly qualified to carry out a legitimate hair strand drug test, by asking the questions discussed above. Remember, it’s not just your client you have to think about, but it could also be the welfare of a child at risk.
Credit: Video by ROMAN ODINTSOV