Social worker to take legal claim over impact of ‘unfair’ criticism from judge to European Court

The social worker was given permission to disclose documents relating to her case to the European Court of Human Rights

Photo: tashatuvango/Fotolia

A social worker seeking damages after a judge’s “intrinsically unfair” criticism got her suspended from her job will take her claim to the European Court of Human Rights.

Chief of the Family Courts, Sir James Munby, gave permission last week for the social worker to disclose documents relating to care proceedings as part of her claim.

The social worker had previously sought damages against the judiciary via the Queen’s Bench Division for misfeasance in public office – which covers claims that public officers have abused their power – but she was advised that would be “unlikely to succeed”. This was due to it being difficult for her to prove “bad faith and/or a lack of good faith”.

Instead she was told she could bring an application to the European Court of Human Rights following a decision it made last year.

She seeks damages for harm done to her health and reputation following criticism made against her and a police officer’s practice in November 2015.

Judge Arthur, who made the criticism, had said: “The local authority and the police generally, but [the social worker] and [police officer] in particular, had subjected [the child] to a high level of emotional abuse over a sustained period as a result of their professional interaction with her”.

A Court of Appeal ruled in November 2016 that the criticism was “the result of a wholly unfair process” and breached the professionals’ right to a fair trial.

‘Real and significant consequences’

In the Court of Appeal judgment, Judge MacFarlane said the social worker and police officer had experienced “real and significant” consequences because of the criticism.

As part of the legal challenge, the social worker had to get permission for certain documents from the care proceedings and appeal process to be disclosed, which Munby agreed to.

She was told she could bring an application to the European Court of Human Rights for breaches of the right to a private life, right to a fair trial and right to remedy if your rights are breached.

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16 Responses to Social worker to take legal claim over impact of ‘unfair’ criticism from judge to European Court

  1. Apple Crumble December 4, 2017 at 12:23 pm #

    It’s feedback….maybe the social worker to take to learn from it and move on the rather than play to their sense of entitlement.
    Heck, if I succesfully sued every person that criticised me along my 13 years career I’d be richer than the prime minister. Im sure there many social workers out there that have caught the battle in their careers, the clients are only 2/3rds of what some social workers have to work with, the others include judgements and criticism from colleagues and allied professionals who think they understand the difficulties in what we do. At the end of the day, achieving positive outcomes for vulnerable clients is the goal. Now if that was missed on a few cases and you were called out, learn from it. Better to take that approach than to be self serving.

    • Stefan December 6, 2017 at 6:38 am #

      Whilst some criticism can be constructive and produce growth and better practice, the criticism you explain that you have experienced sounds like it was not constructive but you’ve “learnt from it and moved on”. This type of criticism is not always OK. Others need to learn the effects criticism can have if not presented in the right way.
      Whilst you appear from your comment resilient in your practice (which is key in social work, of course!) for others, it is about growth and each and every one of us is individual. Let’s not confuse resilience with oppression (in terms of unjust treatment due to someone’s powerful role and control – the judge in this matter).
      Sometimes they do not get it right, and well done to this social worker for fighting back for herself and for the profession which is so widely “criticised” all of the time, causing an unfair stigma towards social work and the great work a lot of us do – I’m sure including yourself. I think this is applaudable rather than her accepting criticism that may have been unfair and losing a role she may have been very passionate about.
      Perhaps the judge will reflect on their own practice dependent on the outcome. It’s not just us social workers that need reflective practice!

    • Julius Manu December 6, 2017 at 4:39 pm #

      You have obviously the point, categorically. The petitioners case hinges on “intrinsically unfair” criticism got her suspended from her job.” Its not a mere “called out” she must learn from as you put it.

    • Graham December 7, 2017 at 6:04 pm #

      I have to agree with most of the comments here Apple Crumble. Accusing a social worker, in court, of ‘a high level of emotional abuse over a sustained period’, leading to her being suspended from her job, is not feedback – it is a serious accusation and should be defended against. We all accept hurtful and sometimes abusive comments from angry clients and the public, but it is not acceptable from fellow professionals, particularly judges who are in positions of power. The Court of Appeal thought he process ‘wholly unfair’ so the SW has a perfect right to seek redress.

      • Stuart December 8, 2017 at 6:34 pm #

        I heartily second that Graham.

        Used to like apple crumble but recommend humble pie instead. Or drown it in custard.

  2. Alanis December 4, 2017 at 4:46 pm #

    I wonder if the families who feel they’ve being on the receiving end of such commentary from social workers might feel so inclined to sue also.

  3. Dazed and Confused SW December 4, 2017 at 6:34 pm #

    I absolutely support her in taking her case forward. Whilst the previous comment seems to be more about taking it on the chin. I professionally believe that if this social worker feels that she can seek damages for harm done to her health and reputation following criticism made against her and a police officer’s practice in November 2015 then do so. Why would the previous person start to comment on previous cases and being “called out”? Comes across as being judgemental and a little bit arrogant, to say the least. Too many times social workers have to take it on the chin and not fight back. Look at Sharon Shoesmith and co’ how many more social workers should be standing up for themselves. Go for it!!

  4. Sharon Shoesmith December 5, 2017 at 11:09 am #

    Well done to this social worker for standing up for herself and the profession. I do agree with the notion of taking things ‘on the chin’ where it seems right to do so but there are situations in which the lack of a fair hearing must be contested.

    I wish the social worker strength to stick by her principles and I hope she has the support of friends and family. I will watch out for the case going forward. This is a prime example of the ‘cultural trope’ that blames social workers without reason or understanding that I write about in my book.

    All good wishes
    Sharon Shoesmith

  5. Faye December 5, 2017 at 8:52 pm #

    She lost her job that’s why and not likely to get another one —READ before you judge !

    • Dazed and Confused SW December 6, 2017 at 11:23 pm #

      Sorry, Faye, who and what are your referring to? Sounds like you have already judged someone but who?

      • Stuart December 8, 2017 at 6:40 pm #

        I think you’ll find Faye was referring to crumble, who seems happy to condemn the social worker in this case just as hearily as the judge, who has been judged to have helped breach ”the professionals’ right to a fair trial.” – and should, I hope, eventually have to pay personally the compensation these workers deserve.

  6. Mo December 6, 2017 at 4:09 pm #

    I applaud the SW and goodluck.

  7. Denise December 6, 2017 at 5:12 pm #

    May be a step towards challenging the blame culture which has surrounded social workers in recent years and disempowered the profession. Many inquiries are too keen to lay the blame at the door of the individual social worker, ignore systemic failings and allow other involved to abdicate responsibility. If successful could send out a powerful message.

  8. frustrated December 6, 2017 at 6:10 pm #

    like the other comments I find Apple Crumble’s comments sad and indicative of how others and the profession itself treat social workers. This leaves those in the profession who are so resilient they don’t care about anybody except themselves and that creates a bullying, oppressive, defensive culture in which there is no room for reflective practice.

    Good luck to the social worker I feel for her/him social work too affected my health, primarily because of a naïve manger who did not understand she was working with clients who are skilled manipulators using learned techniques to distract from their neglect of their children.

    A conscientious worker can only take so much on the chin.

  9. Smacker December 7, 2017 at 7:53 am #

    Good on yer I say as fair criticism is fair, but grossly unfair criticism from the lofty judicial tower that damages people’s health and personal-professional reputation should be challenged. I’ve had it and swallowed it only because I couldn’t put myself through any more. It’s not about vindication, you may well win or indeed may not, but I guess you wouldn’t want to “die wondering” as they say in cricket.

  10. Gill Bryant December 7, 2017 at 11:53 am #

    I am impressed by the social worker’s resilience and energy to continue the battle! I hope she wins her case.