Forensic Science And Family Law

Forensic Science And Family Law

There are forensic services well known to the family law practitioner. 

The use of DNA analysis to determine the parent of a child has been long standing.  In more recent years, hair strand toxicology to look for drug consumption over a period of time has seen a dramatic fall in cost, making it more routine and accessible in those cases where drug abuse has played an adverse role.

But what about other areas of forensics?  How might they come into family law cases?

In the last decade, there has been a mobile digital revolution and, along with it, digital forensic capability.  Smartphones carry data that would fill a house if printed in hardcopy and their many apps and connections to the network can leave an extensive investigative trail.  However, just as it is easy to accumulate information, it is also easy to delete data, message content or whole apps.  Checking a phone to see if there has been any inappropriate or disallowed contact runs a risk that the content appears to have gone.

What is available is information from the phone’s “network” provider.  The main four are Vodafone, O2, Three and EE, and the rest are subsidiaries of these (called Virtual Network Operators), for example Tesco or GiffGaff.  The information held by network providers is outside the control of the owner of the phone and, even if someone deletes all the call history from their phone, the network will still have records of the numbers contacted, on what days and how long they talked for.

This won’t tell you the content of a text message, but it does tell you if the contact was made and at what time, and can provide a general idea of the phone’s location when calls/texts were made (if the cell site data is also requested).  Part of this information is available through a Freedom of Information request but what you will get are only the numbers, dates and times for outgoing calls and texts, not incoming or location information.  Direction from the Court is needed to request the full information (referred to as “call data records”) for a particular number and the time period of interest.  The networks only keep this information for 12 months, so it is important to make the request early if you think it will be critical to a consideration.

A dynamic example of this was a mother who had absconded with a child.  The Local Authority legal team needed to find them but there was no immediate danger to the child or mother, so the police did not want to assist.  The legal team were able to request the up-to-date call data records for her number and, using those, it was possible to track her to a relatively small section of a completely different city with data less than 12 hours old.  From that information, it was possible to look in that area for known friends or family to track her down.

In addition to the network side of things, examinations are possible on devices and computers to look at internet history and communications, even if deleted.  In some cases, it is possible to reconstruct deleted webpages, emails and messages.  Damaged devices can sometimes be interrogated to recover information from them.  Even recovery of partial images can be critical in cases where there has been inappropriate contact between persons or inappropriate use of electronic devices, for example concerns that a responsible person is watching adult material whilst children were in their care.

Although the world of digital forensics has expanded, it is important not to forget the more traditional forensic approaches.

Handwriting analysis relies on a mixture of experience and analytical techniques to assess if a document or signature is forged or altered, including written agreements, wills, threatening letters and so on.  Pads of paper can be analysed for indentations that may have been left behind by a person writing a note on top.  In one classic case of a person who flatly denied ever seeing a particular Will, the words “Get this to my solicitor” were indented into the top page in their handwriting along with their initials.

Forensic science has wide and varied applications.  If you think there is information that may affect case outcomes that needs a forensic eye, contact a forensic provider to see what the possible options are.  Keith Borer Consultants has a team of over 30 experts, covering all the major areas of forensic science.  We are one of the longest established forensic consultancies in the UK, celebrating 40 years in 2020.

This article was submitted to be published by Keith Borer Consultants as part of their advertising agreement with Today’s Family Lawyer. The views expressed in this article are those of the submitter and not those of Today’s Family Lawyer.


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