A social worker named and criticised by a judge as having altered care records to make them more critical of a mother has lost a legal bid to have the findings overturned.
Justice Baker refused Linda Fraser permission to appeal findings from a March 2016 Family Court ruling handed down by District Judge Exton. The appeal bid was heard in July last year but Baker’s judgment has only been made public this week.
Exton found Fraser edited care records to make them more critical of a mother of two children when she was working as a consultant social worker for Bristol council. The judge concluded the edits were made to help “bolster” the council’s position during care proceedings. No care order was made in the case and Exton ordered that Fraser be named in a published version of the ruling.
In the social worker’s application for appeal, and the original case, she conceded she must have altered the records but said she could not remember doing so. She denied that she had edited the logs to strengthen her local authority’s case and denied lying in her evidence to the court.
The social worker’s appeal relied on evidence that she was under very considerable stress at the time and was suffering from significant health problems, Baker said.
Her lawyer argued judge Exton gave inadequate consideration to medical evidence of her condition, failed to engage with the concessions made, and delivered a judgment that offered an “inadequate analysis of the totality of the evidence”. The judge’s actions caused the social worker injustice and the order to name her publicly was unjust, the lawyer said.
Under rules governing family proceedings, the courts will allow appeals when a decision by a lower court is found to be wrong or unjust. Appeals must be allowed when an applicant “demonstrates a real prospect of success”.
No prospect of winning appeal
However, Baker found there was “no real prospect” of an appeal court concluding that Exton’s findings against Fraser were “wrong or unfair”.
He said the finding that she had altered the records was unchallenged, her claim that she could not recall what happened was “unassailable”, and judge Exton was “entirely within her discretion” to draw her conclusions on the social worker’s motive.
On the issue of the social worker’s health, Baker found Exton had been “fully aware” of the argument that stress may have affected her evidence at the time.
He said Exton had drawn on her “experience in assessing witnesses” when rejecting this suggestion, and found no reason to think the social worker’s powers of recall “were affected in any way, particularly when the events she was being asked to recall occurred only eleven days previously”.
Baker said Exton’s findings had illustrated the points made by the mother’s representative in the original case.
Baker concluded: “In my judgment, there is no real prospect of an appellate court concluding that the judge was wrong or unfair. Permission to appeal is therefore refused.”
A Bristol council spokesperson said: “This was an isolated case where the court found that one officer had acted in an inappropriate manner, falling short of the level of professionalism we expect of our social workers.
“Those actions do not reflect the high standards set by our social workers whose ‘persistence and don’t give up approach’ were features of feedback received from Ofsted in 2014.
“We are proud of the high quality of social care they deliver, whilst providing vital support to some of the city’s most vulnerable children and families.”