Social worker to seek damages over court case criticism which led to suspension

The social worker won the right to have negative comments removed from a judgment last year after the criticism got her suspended

court work
Photo: makibestphoto/Fotolia

A social worker plans to make a claim for damages against the Ministry of Justice after a judge unfairly included criticism of her in a ruling, causing her to be suspended from her job.

Last year the social worker and a police officer who had been criticised by a family court judge won the right to have the negative comments about them removed from a judgment.

This followed an appeal court finding that the judge had “failed to meet the basic requirements of fairness” and breached their right to a private life and fair trial.

Equip yourself for court

If you feel a sense of dread at giving evidence in court, then help is at hand. Leading trainer Shefali Shah will be running a session at next month’s Community Care Live London to help social workers build practical courtroom skills and confidence for their next appearance in the witness box. Register now for your free place.

Judge Arthur had failed to give the social worker and police officer an opportunity to respond to the criticisms he was forming of them, the appeal court said. These criticisms played no part in the outcome of the case.

The appeal court ruled that only a redacted version of the initial care proceedings could be published as a result of Judge Arthur’s unfair criticism.

In a court hearing last month, the social worker was given permission to share the judge’s name and details from the original proceedings in her case against the judiciary. Judge Arthur died in May 2016.

‘Misfeasance’

The social worker plans to bring a claim in the Queen’s Bench Division against the Lord Chancellor and/or the Ministry of Justice.

She is demanding damages for “misfeasance in public office” – which covers claims that public officers have abused their power – and for breaching her rights to a fair trial, private life and to not be discriminated against (under articles 6, 8 and 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights).

She is claiming the Lord Chancellor and/or the Ministry of Justice “bear vicarious liability for the Judge’s acts”.

The chief of the family courts, Sir James Munby, ordered that the social worker be allowed to identify the judge who made the criticism as part of disclosing to proposed defendants.

However, she is not allowed to share documents which identified – or would lead to the identification of – any party or witness in the care proceedings or the appeal.

23 Responses to Social worker to seek damages over court case criticism which led to suspension

  1. TONIMARIE BENATON August 22, 2017 at 11:48 am #

    This is a very interesting case and one which we will need as a profession to follow. It can be often the case where social workers are criticised unduly and we are all aware how this potentially feeds into the negative media betrayal which harms social work interventions and public perceptions.

  2. Sharon Shoesmith August 22, 2017 at 1:20 pm #

    Well done to the social worker who had the strength and courage to bring this case to the appeal court. It underlines the difficulty that social workers have in getting a fair hearing. I am working every day to bring that fact out in the open. Im really encouraged to read this article. Social workers please stand strong.

    • Miss Taylor August 22, 2017 at 2:30 pm #

      Agreed. Thank you who ever you are. Thank you Sharon Shoesmith too. I too tried to stand up for myself. It is a lonely place. I came of worse for wear, a broken person, but I’m back and in demand – no help from colleagues. It took it’s toll, someday’s I feel I’ll never fully recover and I’ll never trust a local authority manager again.

      Keep going, hold your head high, but don’t rely on your colleagues for support.

      • Eboni August 22, 2017 at 7:23 pm #

        The issues raised have nothing to do with one LA Manager or situation. Managers get bullied by their teams too. Disliking managers or whatever is discriminatory and prejudice. There is a bigger situation being raised in this article. Colleagues won’t save you because we are all part of the problem and we are all a part of the solution.

        Recover and leave or recover and return. If you’re practice is good so be it. If your practice is below good enough do everyone a favour and move on.

    • Tracie Mcgee August 22, 2017 at 6:36 pm #

      Sharon I was a social worker for six years in Scotland until a disciplinary led to an investigation by the sssc. This then led to years of process hearings etc and ultimately loss of my registration. The financial and emotional impact in attempting to defend myself has been immense however I would like to return to the profession. I ask myself why given the way I was treated, the time it takes to resolve issues and the punitive treatment of workers by individuals who often do not hold a social work degree is appalling. I attempted to raise this on numerous occasions with the Scottish government and I would like to raise this for all who work in the profession. Who regulates the registered body? No one. This really needs consideration. Well done to any individual who has the strength to fight back as I know it isn’t easy.

      • leah August 23, 2017 at 7:06 pm #

        HI Traci,

        I was touched by your plight and email, and am very sorry you had to go through the disciplinary hearing procedure which ‘takes years’, only to lose your SW registration, and not to mention the toll it took on you financially and mentally.

        I’m a Social Worker who is coming to the end of almost two decades in child protection frontline practice. Although I have not been through a disciplinary hearing myself, this has only been through the ‘grace of God’, and nothing more.

        This is a difficult field with little support, competing and complex demands, and unmanageable caseloads. I only managed a heavy caseload as I virtually lived at the office’ (sometimes being back at work until 10pm, & working most weekends) which was not healthy. I also became socially isolated, and almost became reclusive too, as the only steady relationship I was having was with my work computer. This is no life, and the majority of people outside the profession and general public have no idea what social workers go through and put up with.

        I was interested when you said you would like to return to this field? I would kindly ask yourself, why do you want to do that to yourself? I say this to you as this was exactly what the SW Lisa Athurworry (former social worker of Victoria Climbe) said over the many number of years she was in the media; that she would like to return to the profession, and she spent (or wasted) years of her life and energy on fighting to be able to return to the profession, when she could have concentrated her efforts and years on re-training and entering a new field. She ended up getting her registration back, however sadly nobody will employ her as a social worker anymore, as her name is synonymous with this poor child’s death, even though she was not to blame, and is therefore unemployable in the field of SW.

        I would like to tell you that I have ‘given up a lot’ in my personal life for the sake of the job; and although there have been elements of the job I have enjoyed, it took years away from my life (that I can never get back), and sadly I cannot say it was worth it, and I would not choose social work again, if I was given the choice back again now – I would actually ‘run for the hills, and not look back’.

        You have to ask yourself whether you want to return as you have a ‘life’s passion for it’ (and you don’t mind all the long and unpaid unsociable hours & heavy workload), or is it more (as I suspect) because you feel you have failed and let yourself down, and want to prove to yourself that you can do it? You don’t need to prove anything to yourself or anybody else, and I would strongly advise you to take the time to look at doing a job which is worthwhile (without the long hours and stress), where you can have a work/life balance, and you can be happy and have the time to enjoy your life.

        Personally, this is the field to be getting out of – especially CP Social Work (which I am in the process of doing myself now) as without radical change, increased funding, and Central Government change; social work in this country is going down the toilet.

        There are going to be more cuts, which means an increase of work, and working conditions will become more dire for social workers.

        Take my advice; it’s not worth trying to ‘dive back into an unpleasant situation’ and you would be better off getting into another career. After all, sometimes we social workers think it is the only profession in the world; its not!

        All the best; you can do it.

        • Sam August 30, 2017 at 9:39 pm #

          Dear Leah,
          Your message completely captures how I feel. There by the grace of god go I. Today I survived tomorrow I may not..will it be me? In an effort to stay on top I try to capture, evidence my day, typing copious notes that no one ever reads.
          My life is passing by, I have no life just work, and when I say that I mean it’s more than work it’s almost a dangerous addiction, an abusive relationship where I go round in circles.
          I’ve seen the system crush amazing social workers, I’ve seen good dedicated people move up the ladders and seen their souls crushed as they become the gatekeepers to precious budgets.
          I barely see my family. When I do they irritate me and I irritate them. What am I doing they say when they learn that every other week I’m on call being paid the grand sum of .40p an hour, yes that’s not a typo it’s fourty pence an hour. To be available from 5pm until 9am. Sometimes I laugh if I’m not crying… this is what I studied for, got into thousands of pounds worth of debt for. My pdp is carried out by someone with no qualification.
          I have to ask myself in what other profession does this happen? I always remember a poignent moment when I did the joint police training. The first question was how many of you here regularly work an additional 2 hours a week. Most hand went up and so it went, how many of you get paid for the overtime you do. Our police colleagues explained that after 30mins after their shift ended they were on overtime. Same question to social workers, not a single hand went up. No surprise to us but the police reactions said it all. Why would you work for free???
          And why do we? Yes we care, yes we want to do all we can to ensure our clients are safe but really we’re doing it to survive, no judge is going to wait for a court report. Work load pressure cannot be used as an excuse we are told by our well meaning, supportive managers, well no it’s not an excuse it’s a reality.
          I too would not pick social work again, yet I can’t quite get the strength to walk away, nor can I afford to. But I know that perhaps I can’t afford to stay…action is needed now…well once I’ve finished writing up today’s visits :)

    • Dave August 22, 2017 at 9:06 pm #

      Sharon what happened to you was not acceptable and we all know that. Social workers work really hard. Local Autority cases are tough and we need our court teams to recognise what we do isn’t easy. We don’t jusy stop at one case that’s in court we have 20-30 plus in some cases..the day job continues. I think some of these judges need to experience what we do. We have to show we evidence our capabilities and PSP’s so why shouldn’t they.

      Good on this worker for standing up to it. We need more support via HCPC and BASW.. but more and more, when things are tough we’re just left to rot..

    • Anonymous August 22, 2017 at 9:12 pm #

      Are you the Sharon Shoesmith who was in the press a few years ago and dismissed from your post

    • Alison Harness August 23, 2017 at 11:46 am #

      I agree! SW’s are often vilified and criticised heavily by the courts for doing such a difficult and stressful job. It’s a job that beats you down in so many ways and the effort and energy required to do something like this cannot be underestimated!

      You were also treated most unfairly Sharon. I will never forgive Ed Balls for cementing the blame culture within social care in the way that he did.

  3. maharg August 22, 2017 at 3:00 pm #

    It is good to see that the social worker is able to redress the imbalance that was perpetrated by Justice Arthur and the action is supported by Sir James Munby.And like Miss Taylor reflected it’s hard to trudge through this mess, especially when the courts have identified you will perceived failings, so why would your colleagues and employer fly in the face that. Hopefully for the social worker in question. They get something more than” I’m sorry apology”

    Be good to see what the outcome is

  4. Paul Manyara August 22, 2017 at 4:24 pm #

    Go after them and bite them where it hurts. Social workers work so hard and yet are least appreciated, often treated unfairly unjustly and scapegoated for other people’s failings with nobody to value what they do, protect or defend their name. Stand up stand for your rights and fight for justice and fairness. You have my full blessings and best wishes!!!

  5. Miss D August 22, 2017 at 8:13 pm #

    It’s about time, out job is hard enough without criticism from judges… often when you have to continue to work with the family following judgement.

  6. Pat Elliott August 22, 2017 at 8:19 pm #

    This is such good news for social work and the profession as a whole; have been inspired by the aftermath of Haringey and in particular Sharon Shoesmith’s work and taking on what seemed like an insurmountable task. We must also offer a balance in taking responsibility for poor practice where it occurs, and for making the necessary changes where needed. Will watch the development of this case with interest. Self-reliance and colleagues you can trust is very important to success.

  7. Marva Kelly, Unilateral Thinking August 22, 2017 at 8:56 pm #

    I will be following this development. This has been allowed to happen too many times but always unchallenged to this level, until now. Interesting times ahead.

  8. Emancipated Social Worker August 22, 2017 at 9:53 pm #

    A Massive Well Done and Hugs for the immense courage in standing up to protect your social work name and credibility. I totally understand the trials and tribulations myself, having been subjected to a vindictive bullying campaign that commenced in 2011 via an alleged experienced service manager who I can only describe as a connoisseur of bullying. She was supported and enabled in her endeavours, with the local authority in its entity; perpetuating the bullying, rather than tackle the numerous staff who have engaged in clearly evidenced gross misconduct and misfeasance in public office.

    Further to being mobbed out of my role; I have been subjected to a persistent abuse of power by the local officers; leading on from making a claim for disability discrimination and victimisation. There appears a sense of reassurance that they will never be held accountable for their persistent abuses of power, as the notion of accountability does not appear to be a concept that is recognised. As a Social Work student, I learnt early on of the fundamental importance of being able to clearly justify and ratify my decisions and actions. This has been an imperative aspect of my practice that has informed my decision making and left me reassured that in a court of law, I would always be able to put forward credible and justifiable explanations for my conduct. However, within some local authorities this is clearly an alien concept. My request that 7 council officers rectify factually inaccurate and defamatory data, deliberately created to depict me as incompetent was met with threats of legal action for harassing staff.
    I was similarly sent a threatening and intimidating Letter before Action simply for contacting an ex line manager (who left the organisation several years ago) to question why she put me through capability without my knowledge or consent and documented blatant lies about my capability in partnership with the main bully. A public interest disclosure to the Director of Adult Care was ignored. My complaints have consistently not been addressed in line with the council’s own complaints procedure; with valid and serious concerns ignored. A complaint about withholding data from my subject access request was not responded to for 9 months and was subsequently littered with factual inaccuracies and lies. Last year I discovered due to a technical error that all my private and confidential emails into the local authority, which I also happen to reside in, were being redirected to the assistant director of human resources.
    Again, my complaint was a complete whitewash and not conducted in line with their very own policies. They insisted the investigatory first stage of the complaint had already been undertaken by the hr director himself so my complaint could only be progressed to the final stage review. Therefore, the subject of the complaint effectively investigated himself. Needless to say, the outcome of the complaint concluded no wrongdoing and despite the immense distress being caused to me they continue in their endeavours.
    I have been astounded and dumbfounded by the conduct of this organisation and their endemic culture of bullying, intimidation and ongoing abuse of power in persecuting me for simply trying to protect my social work reputation from the defamation and slander of council officers. They are fully aware that all the evidence that ratifies, confirms and evidences the gross misconduct of social work and occupational therapy managers, is held within council systems but instead choose to persecute me rather that address gross misconduct.
    My strife for justice continues but as Miss Taylor points out it is a lonely place and you are very much on your own. I have been totally floored and left flat on my face with the shock and horror of this organisation; whose persistent persecution of me has left me on the verge of suicide. Due to the support of my nearest and dearest I continue to scrape myself off the floor and in the words of Maya Angelou ‘Still I Rise ‘and will continue to do so until I have my day in court.

    Despite many years of having proper managers who understood and personified the very impetus and moral fibre of social work; my latter years have been marred by local authority managers who are evidenced as lying bullies, cultivating oppressive toxic work environments; were more competent, experienced and knowledgeable social workers are treated like dirt, overloaded with work and not allowed to express concerns; while those lacking in experience but willing to dance to the bullying organ grinders tune, are quickly elevated to management. Social work in some organisations has become a serious health hazard, as well as the profession being perceived as ripe for criticism from those who have no pertinent knowledge, understanding or insight into the realities of social working in the twenty-first century.

  9. Andrew August 23, 2017 at 6:57 am #

    Well done Miss Taylor – for too long we have remained the silent profession allowing everyone to make ill-informed comments about our work. People like you and Sharon Shoesmith are beacons for us all.
    Keep up the fight.

    • Tom J August 24, 2017 at 12:24 pm #

      thanks

  10. Carmella August 23, 2017 at 1:04 pm #

    Well done! Judges should not be beyond criticism – if they discriminate against people and act unfairly then they should be brought to task. We are all accountable for our behaviour!

  11. Miss Taylor August 23, 2017 at 1:43 pm #

    Thank you all so much for you comments and sharing of experiences except for one, who has totally missed the point.

    There are a few decent managers left out there however they must be nearing retirement age the new model of managements promotes bullying and manipulation, people who should never have entered into the profession are most often the ones who become managers give them a little power and watch the fall out. Only when social workers stick together will there ever be change.

    To emancipated social worker, Sharon and any others alone out there, I take my hat off to you, your experience mirrors my own. Suicide was a daily companion when I was going the lowest darkest periods of my ordeal. I was bullied and bullied again then disciplined by unqualified, very ignorant managers who stretched the ordeal out as long as they could.

    Just keep going, The saying what goes round comes round is apt, your day will come, mine did eventually.

  12. Sandra August 23, 2017 at 10:23 pm #

    I am so very proud of this social worker standing up for her rights. Its about time social stand up injustice abd advocates for one self which hcpc fails to do.

  13. Debbie August 24, 2017 at 11:08 pm #

    Well done for standing up against this horrid disease of vilifying and scapegoating social workers which some judges and also managers so often inflict in attempts to justify the inadequacy and breakdown in the systems which are simply failing –