Two social workers have been found guilty of contempt of court after they defied a legal ruling to prevent a mother gaining greater access to her estranged children.
The Edinburgh City Council employees, referred to as “CM” and “GL”, went against the decision of Sheriff Kathrine Mackie which allowed the woman, “AT”, to see her two children for two hours a week – more than had previously been allowed.
In a judgement published yesterday, the sheriff found the pair guilty of contempt, but said no further penalty would be imposed. But she said the case indicated a need for further training, monitoring and supervision.
The sheriff’s judgement read: “They [CM and GL] have shown disrespect for and disregard for the decision of this court and interfered with the administration of justice. They have affronted the authority of this court, frustrated the rights of AT and deprived the children of contact with her from 15th July 2013, with the exception of one occasion on 5th August 2013, until contact was reinstated following the decision of the children’s hearing on 22nd August 2013. Accordingly, CM and GL are guilty of contempt of court.
“A finding of contempt of court will be of considerable importance for persons in the positions of CM and GL. In these circumstances I do not find it necessary to be addressed in mitigation and no further penalty will be imposed.”
In May, Sheriff Mackie allowed an appeal by the mother against a children’s hearing decision, giving her more time with her children under the supervision of social workers.
In her latest judgement, the sheriff said CM had terminated the arrangements with the mother without seeking legal advice and so “interfered with the administration of justice”.The other social worker, GL, had accepted and relied upon information from her colleague and taken no steps to reverse the decision and had therefore also interfered with the administration of justice, the sheriff said.
The sheriff also noted that reports written by CM “did not demonstrate an appropriate level of understanding of the complexities of domestic abuse or coercive control”.
Dave Watson, UNISON’s Scottish organiser, said: “The fact that individuals, rather than the organisation they work for, have been put in this position has wide-ranging implications for the employer/employee relationship and could have a ripple effect on all frontline workers.
“This decision highlights the need for a legislative review and one that ministers need to address as a matter of urgency.”
Paul Godzik, children and families convener for Edinburgh city council, said: “We have raised this case with the Scottish Government and believe there are implications for public services across the country.”