Social worker awarded £20,000 by human rights court after judge’s ‘manifestly unfair’ criticisms left her unable to work

Judge’s decision to make serious allegations in judgment without letting practitioner answer them in court, and then to disseminate these to current and potential employers, violated her human rights

Photo by: nito

The UK government has been told to pay a social worker €24,000 (c.£20,600) in damages for breaches of her human rights arising from “manifestly unfair” misconduct allegations from a judge in 2014 that brought her career to a halt.

In a ruling last month, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found the practitioner’s right to respect for her private life had been violated as a result of the judge’s allegations that she had lied to the family court and failed to uphold professional guidelines while investigating alleged sexual abuse.

This was because the family court judge had made the criticisms in a judgment without having given the practitioner the opportunity to answer them in the preceding hearing, and then disseminated the judgment to current and potential employers and professional bodies.

This engaged her right to respect for her private life, under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights, as this encompasses protection of reputation and the ability to pursue one’s chosen profession or business.

Unable to work

Directly on receiving the judgment, the local authority she was working for as a locum terminated her contract. She was left effectively unemployable for two years, until the Court of Appeal struck the judge’s words from the record in a 2016 judgment on the grounds that her Article 8 rights would be breached if his “manifestly unfair” criticisms were allowed to stand.

But, diagnosed with fibromyalgia caused by stress in 2015, she has been unable to work since. In 2018, a psychiatrist found that the “highly traumatic experience” of receiving the family court judge’s findings had caused post-traumatic stress disorder.

However, she was left unable to claim compensation in the domestic courts because she would have been unable to prove that the family court judge had acted in bad faith in making his criticisms. In 2017, she was granted permission to take her case to the ECtHR as the only route open for her to claim compensation.

The ECtHR found that the absence of an effective remedy to the breach of her right to private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights constituted a further violation of her rights, under Article 13 of the convention.

Compensation claim

The social work had claimed £1,057,406 in compensation for past and future lost earnings and medical care, as well as £40,000 in non-pecuniary (non-financial) damages.

However, Yonko Grozev, president of the ECtHR, said it had to reject the social worker’s main claim for financial damages as the Court of Appeal had only criticised the process by which the original judge had reached and shared his findings; it had not considered whether the allegations were justified.

“It is not the applicant’s fault that the domestic courts did not analyse the evidence underpinning the judge’s findings; presumably, had she been able to bring a claim for compensation, the national courts would have had to examine precisely these issues,” he said.

While this meant the ECtHR could not find that there was a direct link between the violations of the social worker’s human rights caused by the judgment and her ongoing inability to work, the court said her lack of opportunity to bring a claim for substantial damages and the anxiety and distress she suffered “warrants monetary compensation”.

President Grozev said that these none of these elements “lend [themselves] to a process of calculation or precise quantification” but taking into account all the circumstances of the case and what was “fair, just and reasonable”, it would award €24,000 damages.

In addition to the damages, the social worker had claimed £38,849 for the costs of the UK court cases and £74,033 for the costs of the ECtHR case. The European court agreed with the government that this claim was “excessive” and awarded €60,000 (£51,477) in total costs.

25 Responses to Social worker awarded £20,000 by human rights court after judge’s ‘manifestly unfair’ criticisms left her unable to work

  1. Nick Johnson July 15, 2021 at 2:40 pm #

    And was the judge who caused this mayhem sanctioned at all?

    • Socially Regressive July 16, 2021 at 1:01 pm #

      Good point!

      What appalling treatment of the Social Worker. The impact this has had on her health, I wonder why people continue to join this profession at all!

      And where was BASW/ Social Work England in all this?

      • Dee July 22, 2021 at 1:21 am #

        I’ve always said we need a strong union that represents us and what we have is severely lacking

      • Golden Compass July 22, 2021 at 1:36 am #

        Mistakes are made by social workers because of the ridiculous time scales set by various bodies who have zilch experience in Social Work. These are further fed through by those who have forgotten what it feels like to be on the frontline. All you hear are figures and targets to be met. You can’t be expected to make any useful impact or reasonable, we’ll thought out assessments within those time scales.

        A Social worker has nothing to gain by lying in court. Some of these judges treat social workers like criminals, yet they gain nothing by making life more difficult for a social worker who already has been gate kept by gazillion Acts, Policies and procedures, razor sharp internal red tapes and managers vying for the very few spaces for progress to the top of the multi level, pyramid – type business structure.

      • Social Reflection July 23, 2021 at 11:50 am #

        Hang on a sec, she wasn’t given opportunity to respond, that doesn’t mean she wasn’t guilty of wrongdoing…that’s the same as being found not guilty being entirely different to being found innocent.

    • Tom Murphy July 16, 2021 at 6:29 pm #

      Not a chance of that. Judges do get things wrong, but nothing you can do , as noted in this article.

    • Anne-Marie Marshall July 16, 2021 at 6:40 pm #

      Do you really need to ask?

    • Tdr July 24, 2021 at 10:44 am #

      It doesn’t say that they were not guilty of these things.

    • Molly Buchanan July 26, 2021 at 4:40 pm #

      Of course not. Judges can say what they want.
      Local authorities do exactly the same. Then the HCPC sanction on the basis of these comments
      I wonder how many decent social workers careers have been trashed due to these abuses of power. .

  2. Annishia Buss July 16, 2021 at 1:02 pm #

    Exactly!

  3. Dave Hemsley July 16, 2021 at 1:06 pm #

    Typical “cock up” by the powers that be.Resulting in the vultures circling and getting rich on the back of a person doing their best in very difficult circumstances.

  4. Elvie McMurtagh July 16, 2021 at 3:58 pm #

    I can imagine that outcome will traumatise the worker even further.

  5. Elaine July 16, 2021 at 5:24 pm #

    The judge most likely was not sanctioned and has possibly gone on to ruin the careers of other social workers

  6. Abdul July 16, 2021 at 6:43 pm #

    It is amazing a Judge could make comments like this after the fact, without asking questions of the Social Worker during the hearing. This seems very unprofessional, and also he appears guilty of similar ‘misconduct’ he is accusing the Social Worker of engaging in. As the Judge is a ‘Lawyer’ by profession, I would if the Social Worker raised a complaint about his practice to his regulator? The sad aspect of this is not only the loss of employment, career, and reputational damage, is the fact to take cases to court like this, even if you ‘win’ the case, you still end up ‘losing’ as any ‘settlement’ awarded is taken up in court costs and lawyer fees etc. Also £20 K for the loss of wages, and mental health damage is appalling too. It makes you realise situations like this leave Social Worker’s ‘wide open’ and could happen to anybody.

  7. Amanda Knowles July 18, 2021 at 12:46 pm #

    This raises the same concerns as the Disqualification Regime operated by Ofsted

    The proportionality of the Disqualification Regulations.

    They are very broadly drafted, and it is not just an issue affecting people wanting to become registered managers whose applications are refused. If a children’s home has its registration cancelled, anyone concerned in the management of the home or who had a financial interest in it is disqualified for life. It is not time limited so a previous manager unconnected with the cancellation would be caught, as well as new managers who come in after the events to sort things out. The disqualification applies to children’s homes, fostering and early years.

    The Disqualification Regulations are so draconian we are confident a court would find them to be incompatible with Convention Rights as well as established common law principles of reasonableness and proportionality.

    People affected by these Regulations need to have an opportunity to be heard in advance of a disqualification taking effect. The Regulations also need to be amended as they are unfit for purpose. There should not be automatic disqualification

    The untested use of GDPR exemptions to refuse freedom of information requests.

    Ofsted routinely refuses freedom of information requests. The is denies individuals the right to make a proper defence prior to disqualification. It also protects Ofsted from scrutiny and from being held to account. A precedence for disclosure is necessary to prevent the misuse of regulatory powers.

    The reliability of inspection reports and decision-making processes.

    On Tuesday 10 November 2020 at the accountability hearing HC 262 David Simmonds specifically asked why Ofsted’s legal costs have been rising (Q1261). Yvette Stanley said that one of the reasons for this was that providers are more litigious than they were historically. Given the time, effort, stress and costs involved in legal challenge it is highly unlikely the decision to pursue legal action is one that is taken lightly by an individual or a provider. In our view this is a matter that requires independent investigation.

    https://www.change.org/EndTheUnfairDisqualificationOfCaregivers

    • Irene Martin July 22, 2021 at 6:46 pm #

      It’s this govts way to guarantee cuts in provision without taking the flack. I thank God every single day for our social workers and carers. Without you we are doomed

  8. Sharon Shoesmith July 18, 2021 at 3:16 pm #

    Who in the social work profession supported her through this process? No one? £20k is hardly fair if she is unable to work. Come on social workers get behind a professional body who can support you. When things go wrong you are on your own. Well done to this social worker for getting this far.

    • Katie July 19, 2021 at 9:39 am #

      That the judge acted unlawfully is now established and the comments about the social workers conduct struck from the record. None of us would wish to be treated in this appaling way with little to no redress available to us in our national courts. I wish my colleague good health and a good future. We stand in support and solidarity with her. That aside, I disagree with Ms Shoesmith that when things go wrong we are on our own. I have been at the end of severe unfounded accusations twice by my employers and my direct supervisor made untrue and malicious comments about me in court. Unison and my colleagues were shoulder to shoulder with me. Their unstinting professional and personal support, kindness and in the case of one colleague bravery in speaking up publicly on my behalf got me through. That I have been vindicated and my supervisor moved to “project work” is due to this solidarity. We do need organisations to stick up for social workers and union support to legally confront bad and malicious managers but more than that we need to group together as social workers to show our bosses they don’t have all the power. Less bureaucratic leadership and more ownership of our collective power is our real safety. SWAN is a good start, BASW too in thrall to power elites to “speak truth to power.”

      • Sara July 20, 2021 at 3:47 pm #

        I’m sorry that you experienced victimisation from malicious management. I’m pleased that you had a positive outcome.

        I support the idea of social workers taking back power.

        It’s my observation that workers from ethnic backgrounds are disproportionately victims of malicious abuse of this system.

        Supporting ethnic minority colleagues in your workplace will be a start; share good practices, challenge unfair treatment, an inclusive work environment. Divide and rule will weaken our united front.

    • Tom J July 21, 2021 at 4:02 pm #

      The social work profession could do a better job at supporting social workers who are targeted.

      When a six year old child tragically died and the Hospital Trust, and General Medical Council sought to pin it solely upon Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba; the medical profession was much much louder in standing up for her and highlighting the crazy conditions she was practising under as well as the gross systemic failures.

      Whereas in social work we often do not have a strong united voice. To this day that hounding of the Baby P social workers and of Sharon Shoesmith, and pandering of Ed Balls to The Sun newspaper with their headlines of ‘BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS’ are a disgrace. For the truth on this I recommend Ray Jones book on The Story of Baby P.

      https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/aug/13/dr-hadiza-bawa-garba-wins-appeal-against-decision-to-strike-her-off

  9. Hilary Searing July 19, 2021 at 3:52 pm #

    I hope that the broader practice issues of this case are not forgotten. The social worker’s own performance had been under scrutiny because of her approach to a sexual abuse allegation by a child. It was recognised at the time that formal child protection investigations with the police should follow the ‘Achieving Best Evidence’ guidance. The judge concluded that their ABE interviews were flawed. We should therefore keep in mind the lessons from this case and ask whether social workers are now being appropriately trained and supported for this work.

  10. Celeste Corrigan July 20, 2021 at 3:52 pm #

    At the end of the day, when a body, in this case, legal make an allegation against the professional- it is not a case of establishing the innocence or guilt of the person – it is unfortunately, down to the professional to fight their own case as they’re already adjudged to be guilty of any allegation raised. It’s absolutely outrageous that any professional is treated so appallingly & that they develop psychiatric conditions such as PTSD, not to mind anxiety and depression that led to this. This social worker may never work again because of it. It’s all too easy for public bodies to row in behind the initial allegation and blame the social worker for a complete breakdown in service provision and as we all know, most services are absolutely crap and fall way beneath what’s acceptable in terms of client support! As well as clients being safeguarded, there should be a safeguarding process for social workers as such “investigations” are unsafe, condemnatory and very often biased, based on the subjective & presumptive opinions of others & a clear lack of evidence.

    So, Instead of giving the social worker a voice- they silenced her and chose to listen to the inadequate and inappropriate judgements of a judge who appears to be accountable to nobody and can seemingly pronounce at will! Yet, the social worker is accountable for her practice and in my experience, it is the social work profession that appears to be most accountable for the breakdown of all services, the whipping boy of all services & is the least vocal of all professions! And let’s not forget that social workers are the cruellest of all critics of fellow social workers! And believe me – I know this to be true! My heart goes out to this social worker and I hope that by finding her voice via the ECHR, that she’ll find some level of recovery & peace.

  11. Wafik July 22, 2021 at 7:04 am #

    Totally miscarriage of justice.
    I think many will agree that the financial compensation of 20k is no way enough for the loss of earnings coupled with the mental suffering with its impact on physical health.
    Just imagine if citizens cannot be allowed to go to European courts of Human Rights????

  12. Chris July 25, 2021 at 5:39 pm #

    She won’t see a penny of this £20k compensation, because the Court refused to cover approximately £50k of her legal costs. This leaves her £30k out of pocket.

    Likely outcome? If the lawyers insist on getting paid, this woman loses her house.

  13. SARAH July 26, 2021 at 6:49 am #

    The lack of opportunity to respond was the issue at hand though. Not whether there was guilt or not.

    I.e. It was the ‘process’ that was in violation of her rights that was looked at and not any judgement.

    It’s a bit like Judicial Review where the facts of the case are set aside, and it is the process taken by any person which is scrutinised as to stray from protocol can cause unfairness.

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