A Guide to Legal DNA Testing in Singapore
What is a Legal DNA Test?
Before going into what a legal DNA test is, it is necessary to first understand the nature of a general DNA test.
Broadly speaking, a DNA test involves collecting an individual’s DNA sample from person A and comparing it to a second DNA sample from person B. Depending on the purpose of the DNA test, the second sample may be obtained from B either:
- Directly (i.e. from B’s own body such as through a cheek swab or saliva sample), in which case the test would help to prove (or disprove) a biological relationship between A and B; or
- Indirectly, by combing through the places B visited or objects that B might have used for any DNA samples B may have left. This is more common in criminal cases where a match between the two DNA samples would establish the presence of the person at the crime scene, making them a prime suspect for the crime committed.
A legal DNA test, then, is conducted when the DNA results of any tests are required to be admitted to court to support a party’s claims.
Other types of legal DNA tests, provided that their test results are required to be used as court evidence, include:
- Paternity tests –tests to prove that a man is the biological father of a child, so as to support a claim that the man owes legal obligations towards the child such as in cases involving child custody, child maintenance, changing the name of a child on their birth certificate, and inheritance proceedings;
- Relationship tests – tests to establish a biological relationship between alleged relatives, e.g. between siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles etc;
- Prenatal tests – tests carried out during pregnancy to determine, among other things, the paternity of an unborn child; and
- Infidelity tests – tests which help indicate whether a person has likely cheated on his/her partner.
Differences between a legal DNA test and an at-home DNA test
An at-home DNA test, also known as a ‘peace-of-mind’ DNA test, has the exact same laboratory testing process as a legal DNA test.
Using the example of paternity testing, in both types of tests, the DNA patterns of the child and the alleged father are compared using DNA probes, i.e. a fragment of DNA that is complementary to the DNA sample of interest. If the DNA patterns between the child and the alleged father do not match on two or more DNA probes, it can then be concluded that he is not the child’s biological father.
However, unlike a legal DNA test, an at-home DNA test cannot be admitted in court, and is typically only used for reassurance (hence the phrase “peace-of-mind”).
The key difference between the two tests lies in the sample collection procedures of each test. Also known as the chain of custody, the samples in a legal DNA test must be collected by an independent third-party–usually a medical practitioner or qualified nurse–who will handle the DNA samples once they have been collected and act as a witness to the sampling.
Personal details such as names and email addresses must be provided in addition to a signed consent form. This is to ensure the samples are collected from the correct participants.
In contrast, in an at-home DNA test, most companies will send you a testing kit, complete with instructions on how to properly collect the DNA samples yourself. No proof of identity is required–all that needs to be done is to sign the consent form (usually sent to your home together with the kit). This form authorises the laboratory to test your samples.
Application of Legal DNA Tests in Court
Legal DNA tests in criminal cases
In one of the most high-profile cases where DNA testing played an integral role, a man managed to fake his own death for 17 years before his cover was blown. In 1987, Gandaruban Subramaniam, then 39, had fled from Singapore to Sri Lanka to escape his creditors after the failure of his car-rental business. There, he faked his death in a bid to claim over S$330,000 in insurance money.
The scheme was finally discovered in 2004, when a DNA test was conducted on Gandaruban’s wife’s youngest son. The test confirmed Gandaruban as the biological father of the child, who was born in 1996–after his alleged death in 1987.
Gandaruban was subsequently charged with conspiring with his wife and brother to cheat 3 insurance companies–the 3 were eventually jailed for between 1 to 3 years.
Legal DNA tests in civil suits
The case of WX v WW highlights the application of DNA tests in a civil suit. In this case, a woman had claimed maintenance for her child from a man she previously had a sexual relationship with. However, the man – the defendant – argued that he should not have to pay since the child was born during the woman’s marriage with another man, H.
This is because under section 114 of the Evidence Act, the law presumes a man to be a child’s legitimate father if the child was born during the man’s marriage with the child’s mother. This would mean the defendant would not be the child’s father, but H. If so, the defendant would therefore not have to pay any maintenance.
However, the results of a DNA test conducted subsequently proved that H was not the child’s biological father, leading to the conclusion that the child was actually the defendant’s. As a result, the presumption under section 114 was rebutted, and the defendant was ordered to pay maintenance for the child.
How Much Does a Legal DNA Test Cost?
The price of a legal DNA test is usually around S$600 to S$800, depending on the organisation you choose.
In the context of paternity testing, if it is found that the man is the biological father of your child, you may claim maintenance from him to support your child. This may then offset the price of the DNA test in retrospect. It may, however, be difficult to get the man to cover the costs of the DNA test upfront.
Can a Person Refuse to Take a Legal DNA Test?
A person can technically refuse a court-ordered DNA test, but will have to accept the legal consequences for doing so.
For example, where a person has been arrested, convicted or imprisoned, and refuses to allow a body sample (e.g. a sample of head hair) to be taken from them without a reasonable excuse, they can:
- Be fined up to $1,000 and/or imprisoned for 1 month; and
- Expect to have reasonable force used against them to obtain the body sample.
However, no blood samples can be taken from an accused without their consent, unless the court finds that the accused refused to provide the sample without good cause. In such cases, the court can order for the blood sample to be taken.
The court may also draw an adverse inference against the accused. This means that the court may take the accused’s refusal to provide a blood sample as proof of a claim being made against them (because the accused “has something to hide”).
In all other cases (such as civil lawsuits), any person who refuses a court-ordered DNA test may be held in contempt of court. The penalty for this offence may be a fine and/or imprisonment, the severity of which depending on the level of court exercising the power to punish.
Conducting a DNA Test Without the Person’s Consent or Knowledge
A DNA test can be carried out without the individual knowing, but the results are unlikely to be admissible in court. A person must be aware of the test and consent to it before the results may be used as evidence in court – hence the importance of signing and returning the consent form in a legal DNA test.
Conducting a legal DNA test without the person’s knowledge could be seen as an infringement of the legal rights of the individual, since they did not consent to their personal information being extorted from them. It would thus be likely for the court to refuse admission of such evidence illegitimately procured.
However, the court may still try to find an alternative route to justify the admission of DNA test results even if the test had been done without consent. This is because more weight is generally accorded to DNA test results as compared to other forms of evidence, largely due to the fact that each person’s DNA make-up is unique.
Nonetheless, if the DNA test results are only required for personal use, the admissibility of such results in court is unlikely to be a major concern. After all, at-home home DNA tests are primarily for personal well-being and recreational purposes.
Considering the complexities of the subject-matter, you are advised to seek legal advice from a lawyer on the applicability of obtaining a DNA test based on the circumstances of your case.
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- A Guide to Legal DNA Testing in Singapore