Changes to the way fitness to practise complaints are handled under Social Work England could result in social workers having their human rights breached, a professional body has warned.
Nagalro, the professional association for family court advisers, children’s guardians and independent social workers, said the new process of allowing people analysing a fitness to practise complaint to impose interim orders on a social worker breaches Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which guarantees people the right to a fair and public hearing.
The draft regulation proposals state that if two or more case examiners decide it is likely for Social Work England to determine a social worker’s fitness to practise is impaired, they can “make any interim order they consider is necessary for the protection of the public or in the best interests of the social worker”.
Case examiners would not be able to make an interim order without informing the social worker and giving them an opportunity to make written or oral submissions on the matter, the proposals say.
Under the current system, regulated by the Health and Care Professions’ Council, if it is believed a social worker should be suspended or restricted from work until a formal disciplinary proceeding can take place, an urgent hearing in front of a disciplinary tribunal can be convened.
An interim order being placed by a case examiner would only occur if the social worker in question refused the option to have the case disposed without a hearing, in which case they would have accepted their fitness to practise was impaired, and an examiner’s proposed order would be imposed.
Appeal process ‘expensive and complex’
The social worker would be able to appeal an interim order to the High Court, but Nagalro said it would be “expensive and complex”.
“Even if the appeal were successful, a social worker’s career may have already been destroyed before they have been formally charged with any wrong-doing, let alone convicted,” Nagalro said.
“Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is part of UK law, guarantees everyone a ‘fair and public hearing’ before ‘an independent and impartial tribunal’.
“Nagalro does not believe that these proposals comply with the requirements of the Human Rights Act, or indeed the principles of natural justice which have been part of English law for many hundreds of years,” it added.
The organisation also criticised the idea the regulator would be “at arm’s length from government”, as it argued “sections 37 to 44 of the [Children and Social Work Act] make it clear that the secretary of state for education will have the ability to control almost everything the regulator seeks to do”.
The government is currently consulting on the proposals in the draft legislative framework for Social Work England. The consultation closes on 21 March 2018.