Hair Strand Analysis in Family Cases – Judge Reviews Pros and Cons

Drug addicts rarely make good parents and toxicological analysis of hair strands is of increasing importance in many cases concerning the care of children. However, as one High Court case showed, judges do not simply accept the reliability of such scientific techniques uncritically.

The case concerned a mother who accepted that she had been addicted to cocaine in the past but who insisted that she had beaten the habit before the birth of her daughter. The child was, however, taken from her at birth and placed with foster carers on the basis of hair strand analysis that indicated that she had continued to use cocaine, albeit at a low level, including during her pregnancy.

The mother presented evidence from a trichologist – an expert in hair science – who was critical of the processes used by the private organisations that had carried out the tests. He said that the results might have been due to environmental contamination and that there was no unequivocal evidence that the mother had knowingly used cocaine during the relevant period.

In ruling on the issue, the Court subjected the test results and the techniques used to gather them to searching analysis. The trichologist had testified fearlessly and asked some good questions. In the end, however, the Court preferred the evidence of the testing organisations and found that the results could be relied upon.

The Court found that, despite her protestations, the mother had regrettably given in to temptation and used cocaine, infrequently and at a relatively low level, in the period before her daughter’s birth. She had not told the truth about that and the almost continuous array of positive results during the relevant period could not otherwise be adequately explained.

There was, however, no dispute that the mother had made considerable efforts to turn her life around and had abstained from drugs since the birth. She had also taken steps to avoid damaging relationships. The child had been returned to her care by the local authority and the Court ruled that the little girl should remain at home, subject to a 12-month supervision order.