A social worker suspended in 2010 for accessing porn at work has been allowed to rejoin the register earlier than planned due to a legal loophole.
The General Social Care Council suspended Steve Lloyd Simpson for two years in July last year for repeatedly accessing non-work related websites, some with adult content, during working hours.
Simpson, who was working at Sandwell Council at the time, appealed against the decision to the First-tier (Care Standards) Tribunal. He accepted that his use of the computer for non-work purposes had been “excessive”, but denied looking at pornographic websites.
At a hearing in January, tribunal judge Stewart Hunter upheld the GSCC’s finding of misconduct. But he decided the two-year suspension had been a “disproportionate” sanction, because Simpson’s actions had not put service users at risk of harm.
Hunter concluded the suspension should have been capped at one year.
However, the tribunal is limited to allowing or rejecting appeals; it does not have the power to change sanctions meted out by the GSCC.
As a result, Hunter was forced to allow Simpson’s appeal, thereby re-instating him on the register as of 24 March.
He said: “We do not have the power to substitute a different decision for that of the GSCC and accordingly the appellant succeeds in his appeal.”
This means Simpson was suspended for a total of less than eight months.
Allan Norman, solicitor at independent law firm and social work practice Celtic Knot, said the loophole arose from “poor wording” of the Care Standards Act.
Section 68 of the Act states: “On an appeal against a decision, the tribunal may confirm the decision or direct that it shall not have effect.”
Norman said: “At present the tribunal has complete freedom to rehear a case, and to exercise its own judgement on what the sanction should be, but it does not have the power itself to impose that sanction directly.”
“That makes no sense.”
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