Drug testing is not normally something that makes the headlines. Usually it goes on behind the scenes, with thousands of tests being carried out in order to provide the courts with the evidence they need to make the right decisions.
But sadly last month drug testing did make the headlines, and for all the wrong reasons.
As we will see in a moment, the story behind the headlines revolved around the issue of accreditation.
As was explained in this post, for drug testing, laboratories should have ISO 17025 accreditation. This certifies that a lab uses valid sampling and testing methods to produce reliable and accurate drug test results.
Such accreditation should ensure the validity of the test, which obviously is essential if the result is to be used by the Family Court.
Cansford Laboratories has the ISO 17025 accreditation. ISO 17025 addresses a laboratory’s ability to produce precise, accurate and reliable results. Laboratories are re-examined annually to assess the technical competency of staff and the validity of their methods, amongst other matters. For further details of what ISO 17025 covers, see this page.
The story came to light when a judgment by the President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane was published.
The judgment concerned an application by Greater Manchester Police for orders in respect of materials currently held by them relating to data manipulation at a forensic laboratory in Manchester, which they seek to use for an ongoing criminal investigation.
The background to the case is an investigation begun in 2017 into data manipulation by two different companies consecutively operating at the laboratory, providing services to police forces for the purposes of identifying drug use. The forensics analysed hair, blood, and urine for quantities of illegal substances, and the results provided, some of which were falsified, were used in in criminal, family, coronial or employment cases.
It is alleged that the companies engaged in data manipulation practices for the purposes of ensuring rapid accreditation by the regulator, by which they could provide their forensics services to the police forces, thereby gaining commercial advantage over competitors. The object was therefore to raise the value of the companies, by gaining a larger market share.
The two companies are no longer trading.
Family cases affected
The police investigation has uncovered 27,000 drug test reports which appear to have been affected.
Most of these involve criminal cases, but the judgment also mentions two Family Court cases from 2012.
In one case a woman contested the results from of hair testing for drugs, and in the other case drug test results were challenged by a mother whose children had been removed from her care on the basis of drugs use. In both cases the tests were contradicted by newly instructed forensics providers.
Obviously, the falsification of drug test results can have extremely serious implications.
Information relating to Family Court proceedings is usually confidential, and there are strict rules preventing the communication of that information.
In the light of those rules, and as some of the information in question had been used in family proceedings, the police had to apply to the Family Court for permission to use the test results in connection with their investigation. Specifically, the police sought orders allowing them to retain documents, samples and digital materials produced for use in connection with cases heard and determined in the family courts, and to use and analyse those materials for tracing witnesses and securing evidence.
Giving judgment, the President commented: “There are likely to be criminal, family, coronial and employment cases, previously decided, which parties may wish to revisit on the basis of faulty data. The importance of this is hard to overstate. It concerns miscarriages of justice which may have occurred in reliance on what are now known to be erroneous drugs testing results.”
The President granted the order sought by the police, with the proviso that the identity of individuals to which the tests relate is only revealed in criminal trials if that individual has consented to their identification. The order is to be reviewed every 12 months.