Social workers ‘not in contempt of court’ for halting contact between mother and sons

Scotland's supreme civil court overturns convictions, finding social worker and manager acted in 'the best interests of the children'

judges
Photo: Rex Features

Two social workers convicted of contempt of court for ceasing weekly contact between a family have had the verdicts overturned by Scotland’s Court of Session.

The pair, who work for Edinburgh council and were named in court papers as AB and CD, were found guilty in December 2013 after they stopped weekly contact between a mother and her two sons, fearing it was causing the children emotional harm.

No penalty was imposed on the social workers, but they were both found jointly liable for the expenses of the original proceedings.

Overturned

This ruling has now been overturned by Scotland’s supreme civil court after it was found the sheriff (judge) who ruled them guilty had “not made any findings which justify her conclusion that the social workers’ conduct was a contemptuous affront to the dignity and authority of the court”.

AB halted contact between the mother and two sons because she felt the meetings were causing the boys to become “distressed, distraught and at times traumatised”.

The meetings were triggering memories of past violent conduct, and their foster carers were struggling with “seeing the trauma inflicted upon the children”, AB said.

She decided to halt the court-ordered weekly contact and advise monthly contact instead, a move approved by her direct manager CD, to protect the children’s well-being.

It was after this decision that the mother made a contempt of court complaint, which the original judge upheld.

Best interests of the children

But Lord Malcolm, one of the judges who overturned the verdict, said the original findings did not show any conduct that could be categorised as contempt of court.

“The findings indicate two social workers who, with the best interests of the children in mind, did what they considered was right and proper in that regard…They were under a professional duty to respond to the position as it developed and as it was reported to them shortly after the resumption of weekly contact,” he said.

He remarked that the original judge had “formed an unfavourable impression” of AB, and the concerns she held were “at best secondary to the primary issue of an alleged contempt of court”.

Trisha Hall, manager at the Scottish Association of Social Work (SASW), said the association was pleased that the ruling places the welfare of children as the primary consideration.

“Furthermore, individual workers act as agents of the local authority and this, despite their professional autonomy, should be respected as such,” Hall added.

Understanding trauma
Community Care Inform Children subscribers can benefit from our guides to using A trauma model for planning, assessing and reviewing contact for looked-after children and Understanding a child’s neurobiology to assess the impact of contact with birth parents by Norma Howes, social worker, child forensic psychologist and sensorimotor psychotherapist.

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4 Responses to Social workers ‘not in contempt of court’ for halting contact between mother and sons

  1. Anon April 2, 2015 at 12:14 pm #

    Disgusting example of a state service (courts) acting incongruently with the legislative requirements of another state provision, and I can only say I’m not surprised it was a Social Worker who appears to have been the victim of this.

    All statutory children’s service workers represent the LA that employs them – so why they were individually named and not the LA needs to be seriously challenged. Though do we have any organisation that would do that on behalf of all Social Workers? – no we don’t.

    Hopefully Scotland don’t have a Witch Finder General regulating them. If this happened South of the border the worker will have found themselves subject to an investigation, akin to a criminal investigation and court process, into their professional conduct with no automatic right to any representation.

    Another reason to discourage any body joining this profession

  2. Stuart Holmes April 2, 2015 at 1:11 pm #

    So now who pays the court costs? The abusive & manipulative woman who brought the original case, the original judge who judged wrongly, (more publicity of that required!! ) or you and me???

    Thought so.

  3. Imelda Hall April 8, 2015 at 4:37 pm #

    And quite rightly so. Thank goodness the 2nd judge was impartial and thus able to see the bad judgement of his colleague. I agree wholeheartedly with the above responses, however I would NEVER discourage anyone from joining this very honerable and worthy profession. Social work is a long hard slog with many set backs along the way, but in this case justice was done. I have worked cases where bad judgements about contact wer made. I got together with the FCA and she agreed with me that we return the case to court immediately. We provided the evidence (of the children’s wishes and feelings about their contact) and wer sucessful in then being able to reduce contact to monthly. I am not fully sure of the ins and outs of this case but had it been a finished case I am wondering where the ‘this contact is subject to change should there be any detrimental effect to the child and may be brought back to court etc. It is still an unbelievable 1st ruling that the 2 soc wkrs wer treated in this manner and held fully responsible, rather than the LA.

  4. Jane Benanti April 9, 2015 at 8:08 am #

    Judges should never be ‘above the law’ but this is not the first time that a judge has placed
    himself/ herself in that position in Family Law cases.

    I am pleased Lord Malcolm did his judicial duty.