Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Social workers win contempt appeal

Two social workers who were found in contempt of court after stopping a mother's contact with her children have had the finding against them quashed.

The pair, who both work for Edinburgh council but were not named in court, were found guilty of contempt in 2013.

A sheriff ruled they were in contempt for failing to obey a court order for a mother to have weekly contact with her sons, who had been taken into care.

But a judgement from the Court of Session has overturned that decision.

Three senior judges found there had been serious concerns for the wellbeing of the children and that the social workers, who were in a "difficult situation", had the best interests of the youngsters at heart.

In his ruling, judge Lord Malcolm said that a decision made by the social worker to suspend contact "out of a genuinely held concern" of risk to the children, could not be categorised as contempt of court.

The social workers, named in court papers as AB and CD, are "senior and experienced" employees who were found in contempt over their failure to obey a court order from May 2013.

Earlier that year, a children's hearing reduced contact between the mother and her boys, who were in care, from weekly to monthly.

But she appealed to the sheriff, who granted weekly contact with each child.

In July 2013, AB suspended contact, a decision approved by CD, her immediate superior.

AB referred to the boys being "distressed, distraught and at times traumatised" and wrote that it was her view" that the weekly contact could not be continued in good conscience, knowing the dire effect it has been having on both children".

Following a complaint letter from the mother's solicitor, the sheriff ultimately found that both social workers had failed to obey the court and found them guilty of a contempt of the authority of the court.

No penalty was imposed but they were found liable for the expenses of the proceedings.

The three Court of Session judges unanimously ruled in favour of the social workers on Friday.

Quashing the contempt ruling, Lord Malcolm said: "The court should be sensitive to the difficult situation in which these, and no doubt the other social workers involved, were placed.

"In the context of their long involvement in the case, and the burden of a duty to safeguard the welfare of the children, they adopted a precautionary approach."