An appeal judgement from the Court of Session expresses strong concern about the way child contact cases are handled in Scottish courts.
In commenting on the length of time taken to make a contact order in the case at appeal, Lord Glennie states:
“The time taken to resolve disputes about contact should be measured not in years but in weeks or, at most, months. We recognise that there may be subsequent applications to vary contact arrangements, but the initial decision should be capable of being made, following a short well-organised evidential hearing, within this time-frame.”
The child contact action in this particular case took from January 2010 to October 2013 to reach a judgement. Even when contact was ordered by the court it was sporadic and it is currently more than a year since the father has seen his son.
Delays in child contact cases in Scottish Courts have been criticised before, including by the Supreme Court in NJDB v JEG in 2012, and in the Civil Justice Review.
Families Need Fathers Scotland knows of a significant number of other Scottish contact cases which have spent years in court. Now that we have such a clear and forthright statement of aims by judges in Scotland’s highest court, we will be pressing the judiciary and the Scottish Government to implement changes which will translate these aims into reality.
The father in this case is lodging a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights, claiming that this failure to ensure contact is in breach of his human rights under article 8 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Recent cases such as Malec v Poland and Moog v Germany have upheld such complaints and fined the respondent states.
The main part of this judgement concerned the mother’s successful appeal against her prison sentence for contempt of court because a contact order was not carried out. This also raises issues about how courts should enforce child contact orders. FNF Scotland and other stakeholders will be taking part in a meeting later this month called by Scottish Government to discuss how such orders should be enforced.