Local authority workers in Bristol ignored a court order requiring them to explain why the couple’s two children were being taken for adoption.
They only released the information to the parents 45 minutes before the decision was due to be finalised, giving the family no real hope of mounting a challenge in court.
Sir James Munby, who is President of the Family Division, said their behaviour was ‘deplorable’ and ‘symptomatic of a deeply rooted culture in family courts’.
In his judgment, he accused the social workers of having a ‘slapdash’ and ‘lackadaisical’ attitude to court orders.
He said the couple, who were facing the ‘permanent loss of two children’ had been denied ‘vitally important’ information.
He also warned that in future, there would be ‘consequences’ for social workers, suggesting that they could be jailed for contempt if they fail to comply with court orders – an offence that carries a sentence of up to two years.
Until now, local authority workers have largely been protected by family courts, which also routinely tolerate delays and inefficiencies in their work.
By contrast, members of the public who have failed to comply with court orders have been dealt with severely.