The Court of Appeal has ruled that a council did not break the law by providing a social worker with a job reference that alluded to allegations made about his conduct after he left.
Liverpool Council gave Mark Jackson a positive reference when he left his position on the youth offending team, where he had worked for 12 years, to join Sefton Council’s adult services department in 2007.
But a year later, when Jackson applied to move to Sefton’s youth offending service, Liverpool Council supplied a fresh reference that raised concerns about his conduct in relation to four cases. These reports had surfaced after Jackson left his post and had not been investigated.
As a result of the second reference, Jackson was turned down for the youth offending job at Sefton and remained unemployed for about a year.
In July 2010, the High Court ruled that the reference was unfair and awarded damages to Jackson, to be agreed at a later hearing.
However, the Court of Appeal overturned the ruling. The judges found that a conversation between Catherine Griffiths, group manager of the youth offending service at Liverpool Council, and Sefton Council was not given enough weight in the original hearing.
Griffiths had explained the concerns about Jackson’s conduct to Sefton, but made it clear that they had not been investigated and said she was unable to answer certain questions on the job reference form “in either a positive or negative manner”.
Lord Justice Leveson said: “Liverpool cannot be criticised for providing a reference and cannot reasonably be criticised for including within it a cautionary remark based on allegations that had been made by three social workers themselves based on what four young people had independently said in at least one case supported by a parent.
“The account of these persons had not been tested and was certainly not being taken as true, but it was made clear on the telephone that the allegations had not been investigated.
“Taken together, the reference and the subsequent telephone conversation were careful and, in my judgement, by no stretch of the argument unfair.”
Leveson emphasised his “sympathy for Mr Jackson and the position in which he found himself”, but decided to allow the appeal.
A Liverpool Council spokesperson said: “We welcome the decision of the Court of Appeal in this case. However, we would not wish to comment further, as we do not comment on individual personnel matters.”
What do you think?Join the debate on CareSpace
Keep up to date with the latest developments in social care. Sign up to our daily and weekly emails