Conduct hearings ‘do not have to meet every requirement of a fair trial’, says Scottish judge

The Scottish Social Services Council has successfully overturned a ruling that a social worker's Article 6 right to a fair trial was "engaged" during fitness to practise case

The court in Dundee allowed the appeal. Photo: Gordon Milligan/ flickr

The Scottish Social Services Council has successfully overturned a court ruling that the right to a fair hearing applies during social worker conduct proceedings.

Breached rights

The decision follows Dundee social worker Judy Smith’s appeal against the SSSC’s decision to strike her from the social work register in 2012.

As part of her appeal Smith argued that the regulator had breached her right to a fair trial under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Before examining the details of Smith’s appeal, the court considered whether Article 6 applied to conduct hearings and ruled that it did.

But, following an appeal by the SSSC, that decision has been overturned by Sheriff Principal Alastair Dunlop.

Route of appeal

In his judgment, Dunlop said that conduct hearings do not have to meet every requirement of a fair trial and noted that “any unfairness in the [SSSC]’s proceedings can be corrected when subject to review by the sheriff in the appeal”.

The SSSC said that now its appeal against whether Article 6 applied had been won, Smith’s appeal against whether it was right to remove her from the register could be heard by the courts.

England’s social work regulator the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) has also recently faced questions about whether the right to a fair trial applies to its conduct hearings.

A Law Commission report published last year raised concerns that the fitness to practise process might “allow the regulators’ procedural standards to fall short of those normally associated with [the right to a fair trial]”.

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5 Responses to Conduct hearings ‘do not have to meet every requirement of a fair trial’, says Scottish judge

  1. Fred April 13, 2015 at 11:26 am #

    This is quite unbelievable.

    The SSSC is spending public money like its going out of fashion.

    Rather than ensuring that its campaign against social workers and its hearings comply with only the very basic human rights, it uses public money to challenge social worker’s rights to a fair trial in the courts.

    This is beyond a joke. The SSSC is causing so much damage to the social work profession. It was set up to enhance the professional status of social work and is doing the opposite and costing social workers and the state a lot of money.

    If any other Quango was as hopelessly unsuccessful it would be abolished.

    At a time of continuing austerity, can we really afford to continue divert money from essential front line services into a failure like the SSSC?

  2. Colin Smith April 13, 2015 at 11:40 am #

    This is yet another example of how our democracy has been secretly undermined by the Tories and demostrates the the threat to our society.
    For example; The NHS can only investigate complaints against Doctors. The Police can only investigate complaints against them.

    And, different area but the same problem appllies; If the DVLA make a mistake and you get fined for having no car tax, there is no appleal!

    This country is turning into Russia!

  3. Anon April 13, 2015 at 6:41 pm #

    Ok, so for years Social Workers have felt unfairly targeted by other professions, the media and general public when a number of agencies have proven not to have protected vulnerable adults and children.

    Now it’s official – we don’t deserve to be treated fairly, or to have those articles enshrined in the Human Rights Act applied to us.

    Will the last Social Worker turn out the light when leaving.

  4. Steve April 14, 2015 at 1:20 am #

    So, if I was suspected of a terrorist offence or even of child sexual abuse, my Human Rights are better protected than if I was a social worker who may have made an (alleged) mistake? I would suggest this an abuse of power, due process and another excellent reason not to become a social worker or get the hell out of it you are one ASAP.!
    I say this as an (ex) 25 year qualified social worker, union officer and someone who has experience of the SSSC. It really is just not worth it. What other profession sets out to crucify its practitioners so much?
    1. Conduct committee members are recruited, interviewed and appointed by the SSSC
    2. Conduct committee member serve for an initial 4 years
    3. Conduct committee member are paid BY the SSSC
    5. Conduct committee members are subject to an ” appraisal” by………yip, you guessed it, the SSSC.
    6. If a Conduct committee member wants to serve a further 2nd four year term they have to be re-appointed by the SSSC and their “appraisal” in their initial four year term will be part of the recruitment process (i.e. did they do as the were expected?)
    7. And, the best bit last; A Registrant has no powers (nor does the SSSC) to compel a witness to give evidence. So, although the SSSC has no PROSCRIBED powers to require a witness to give evidence, they certainly have ASCRIBED powers by other Registered social workers even assuming they tell people they are NOT REQUIRED or can be COMPELLED to give evidence!………
    In summary if this was a game of poker; the SSSC gets to decide beforehand which cards will be in the pack; they get to decide first which cards they get to play; they even get to decide which cards a Registrant gets to play, and just in case; they get to change the cards they have at any point to ensure they get to win (but not you; you only get to play the hand you were given!!)
    AND, they say you will be subject to an INDEPENDENT, FAIR and IMPARTIAL process……..
    Well, I will leave it up to you to decide if this a fair procedure?

    • Fred April 14, 2015 at 10:00 am #

      It is quite clear that social workers have the most massive pressures on them.

      Welfare Reform (and the consequent huge increase on poverty), austerity (and cuts to services and resources) and the consequent huge increase in demand for services exacerbated by the rapidly aging population have all combined to make the life of a social worker ever more difficult. This has also coincided of course by actual pay cuts and reduction in living standards.

      Now with all this pressure on social workers, the SSSC really should be an organisation that holds social workers as colleagues and that commands respect of then profession. Instead it is feared and loathed in even measure with managers now avoiding taking any formal measures against staff to keep the SSSC from sticking their size 12 boots into workers vitals.

      All of this is bad enough but the SSSC costs an absolute fortune and the social workers themselves are required to pay for the body that so clearly holds them in utter contempt.

      Abolition is required urgently.