Barristers reject BASW claim of ignorance among free lawyers

Barristers have defended their ability to represent social workers at conduct hearings, following criticisms levelled by the British Association of Social Workers.

BASW said lawyers offering free representation, which the General Social Care Council is promoting, lack the required knowledge of social work standards to be able to defend practitioners.

However, Clive Tulloch, chief executive of the Free Representation Unit, one of the legal charities providing the service, said his lawyers were well-placed to defend practitioners.

He told Community Care: “What lawyers have to offer is not a detailed knowledge of social work – social workers know more about that than anyone – but how to handle evidence, how to tease out the truth of what happened, how to identify unfair process in dealing with a complaint and how to match the facts of the case to whatever rules or standards apply.”

BASW criticisms

Tulloch was responding to questions raised by Marcia Lawrence-Russell as head of BASW’s advice and representation service, which has five full-time officers who represent social workers in conduct hearings and disputes involving employers.

She said: “A pro bono service is going to be provided by a solicitor who doesn’t have a clear knowledge about what makes good practice, and doesn’t fully appreciate the standards social workers need to be meeting in order to make a judgement on whether a registrant should be subject to an interim suspension order, or any sanction under the conduct process.”

The row follows figures released on BASW’s website showing nearly three-quarters of social workers involved in GSCC conduct hearings in 2009 failed to attend or send a representative.

BASW’s own advice and representation service, provided by registered and qualified social workers who have also received legal training, is open to the association’s 12,350 members. Membership costs £213 a year or £152 for people with less than five years’ experience of part-time positions.

A spokesperson for the GSCC said the Bar Pro Bono Unit and Free Representation Unit had some very experienced barristers, and the question of whether they knew enough about social work was “not a concern”.

Related articles

BASW lambasts GSCC over right to fair hearing

External information

British Association of Social Workers

Bar Pro Bono Unit

Free Representation Unit

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