Judge criticises GSCC’s ‘draconian’ abuse of appeals process

A tribunal judge has accused the General Social Care Council of causing "unnecessary distress, inconvenience and expense" to social workers who appeal against its decisions.

A tribunal judge has accused the General Social Care Council of causing “unnecessary distress, inconvenience and expense” to social workers who appeal against its decisions.

Judge Liz Goldthorpe of the First-tier (Care Standards) Tribunal criticised the regulator’s attempt to block an appeal from social worker Beverley Peek, who had been turned down when she tried to renew her registration.

Goldthorpe said the GSCC’s application to the court to strike out Peek’s appeal on the grounds that it had “no reasonable prospect of success” was inappropriate, and smacked of a “rather blunt approach” to the appeals process. The GSCC’s decision was overturned after the case went ahead at a hearing in Southampton.

Goldthorpe is the second tribunal judge to criticise the regulator in as many weeks, after Judge Laurence Bennett said the GSCC had acted disproportionately in issuing a three-year admonishment to a social worker who had circulated an offensive email. The sanction was reduced to a one-year admonishment.

In the Beverley Peek case, the GSCC’s registration committee had refused her application to re-register in 2008 because she had not provided sufficient evidence of her good character. The committee noted the fact she had been convicted in 2004 of benefit fraud and dismissed in 2008 from a post at Southampton Council.

After deciding to uphold Peek’s appeal, tribunal judge Liz Goldthorpe raised concerns about the GSCC’s policy of using a “draconian measure” of trying to block appeals from social workers whenever they arose and “regardless of the merits of the case”.

She said: “At the very least it seems to point to a rather blunt approach to the appeal process that smacks of an unnecessarily dismissive view.

“It is also one that…quite unnecessarily wastes public resources in the form of judicial and administrative time and must cause perfectly legitimate applicants unnecessary distress, inconvenience and expense.”

Allan Norman, principal solicitor at specialist law firm Celtic Knot, said he had faced so-called “strike out” applications on a number of appeals he has brought to the tribunal.

“In each case our clients have incurred costs making legal submissions to the effect that the strike out application is being misused, inappropriately, on perfectly valid appeals,” he said.

“The fact that such applications are, or were, a matter of policy suggests a certain cynicism.”

However, the GSCC’s director of regulatory operations, Michael Andrews, denied it was organisation’s policy to try to block every appeal.

“We are committed to making registrants aware of their right to appeal decisions made by GSCC conduct panels. We believe that this right is essential to ensure a fair conduct process,” he said.

“However, we acknowledge the comments of the Care Standards Tribunal and are currently working to see if there are any lessons to be learnt.”

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