Can I be made to do hair strand testing?
What is hair strand testing?
Hair strand testing is used in the Family Court to determine whether someone (normally a parent or carer of a child) uses illegal substances/drugs, and if so, what substances they use and how much they use. Testing can also be undertaken to look at how much alcohol someone is drinking. This normally takes place when professionals, such as a Social Worker or a Children’s Guardian, have concerns that a parent is using illegal substances and that it is having an affect on the parenting and care being provided to a child. However, hair strand testing can also be used in private law proceedings when one parent is concerned the other parent uses illegal substances.
In circumstances like these, the testing is normally done at the beginning of proceedings. It may also be done at the end too to see if the person in question is still using illegal substances or if their use has reduced.
The results will then be sent to the parties and professionals involved. Normally, the results are considered as part of an assessment to see what impact it has on the child and the care/parenting being provided to a child. The Court will then consider this when deciding what the long term arrangements for the child should be.
What does the testing involve?
The test will involve a professional from a testing company meeting with you and taking a small sample of your hair. This is usually from a discreet place so it cannot be seen day to day. The sample will then be scientifically analysed.
The testing company will only usually test for illegal substances which the Court has directed.
Who can be tested?
The court can direct any party to a court case to be tested, as long as the application meets the legal test.
If hair strand testing is sought, the party who wants the testing to take place must make an application to the Court setting out why they would like the test to take place. This is often because there is history of someone using illegal substances.
The party seeking the testing must persuade the Court that the test is ‘necessary’ and ‘proportionate’. This means that the Court must be satisfied that there is a real and genuine reason as to why the testing should take place. The Court is unlikely to approve any applications which are not supported by evidence or are without basis.
Who pays for hair strand testing?
If you are receiving legal aid, it is likely that the cost of the test will be covered by your legal aid certificate.
If you are not receiving legal aid, then it may be that you have to pay privately. If you cannot afford to do so, the Court will carry out a means assessment. It may be that, if another party to the proceedings has legal aid, then their legal aid can pay for it.
Can I be made to do hair strand testing?
No, you cannot be forced to do it against your will. However, if the court think it is necessary and make an order for it to happen and you don’t cooperate, the court can draw what is called an inference. If the court draws an inference it means that the court think it is likely you have been using illegal drugs and are trying to cover it up.
What if I already take drugs, such as methadone, which have been prescribed to me?
You will have the chance at the testing appointment to tell the testing company what you are taking already so they can expect this in your test results. You can also tell the Court this too so the Court is aware.
What should I do if the Court has ordered that I do a hair strand test?
Firstly, don’t panic! It is really important that you speak to your legal representative, if you have one, who can tell you what to do and what not to do.
However, the general rule is to not cut or dye your hair until a sample has been taken. The Court will usually give this warning when it makes the order. This is because this may interfere with the results. If you do this, the Court may say that you are trying to hide something. This can have serious consequences for your case so it is really important that you seek legal advice first.