Sharon Shoesmith has lost her application for a judicial review of her sacking as Haringey Council’s director of children’s services after the Baby P case.
However, Mr Justice Foskett said he had reached his conclusions with a “lurking sense of unease” in relation to the power of the secretary of state to remove directors of children’s services. He added that he did not think “any party will truly look back at how matters were handled in this case with complete satisfaction”.
He said he had rejected as “too simplistic” Shoesmith’s claim that children’s secretary Ed Balls had decided to sack her based on a petition in The Sun newspaper. The judge said the best means of determining whether Shoesmith had been treated unfairly by Haringey was by holding an employment tribunal.
Shoesmith’s case had centred on Ofsted’s emergency joint area review of Haringey, undertaken after the Baby P case, and Balls’ decision to force her dismissal based on its conclusions. She claimed the process had been “unfair” and against “natural justice” because she was allowed no chance to correct or contradict the report conclusions nor influence Balls’ decision.
The judge said although Shoesmith had not had a “full and fair hearing”, the possibility that many children were at risk in Haringey justified a truncated, emergency inspection and a swift decision. He also agreed Shoesmith would have had the chance to put her case during the actual inspection process.
The judge pointed out that it was not part of his remit to decide the merits of decisions made, whether Shoesmith was entitled to compensation “nor whether the final form of the [Ofsted] report was unfairly strengthened during the report writing stage”.
Implications of the judgement for:
The judge has granted a longer period than normal for making an appeal. She can also now pursue her action for unfair dismissal at the employment tribunal which has been on hold while the judicial review was ongoing. She will be able to use many of Mr Justice Foskett’s remarks to strengthen her case.
The judge’s comments were critical of the council, particularly the evidence submitted which showed councillors influenced Ofsted to change the final report so blame was shifted from a combined failure by the council to an entirely managerial failure.
Although cleared of acting illegally or unfairly, Mr Justice Foskett condemned Balls’ remarks at press conferences for being unfair. He also raised issues around the lack of clarity on how the powers of the secretary of state to remove directors of children’s services should be used. This issue is likely to be raised by directors with government after the election.