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Fitness to practise publications policy

The Social Workers Regulations 2018 require us to publish decisions made by our case examiners and adjudicators.

Fitness to practise publications policy

Last updated: 6 December 2019


About this policy

Social Work England operates its fitness to practise procedures in a fair, transparent and proportionate manner. The Social Workers Regulations 2018 require Social Work England to publish decisions made by its case examiners and adjudicators.

In addition to publishing decisions, Social Work England will publish details of the evidence heard and the reasons for determining that a particular outcome is appropriate in all suitable cases.

The publication of fitness to practise decisions made at the case examiner and adjudicator stages provides valuable information about the standards expected within the social work profession. There is a genuine public interest in sharing this information because it promotes understanding and good practice within the sector, maintains confidence in the social work profession and assists members of the public to make informed choices.

As such, publication of these decisions forms an important part of our overarching objective to protect the public. However, we must also respect the rights of social workers and all other parties involved in fitness to practise investigations.

Publication of certain, sensitive information may contravene an individual’s rights to privacy, family life, home and communications. For more information see Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights provides a right to respect for one's private and family life, home and correspondence.

It may also contravene established laws around information security and create a risk of harm. For these reasons fitness to practise publications will always be accurate, proportionate and appropriately restricted.

The amount of information published and the duration of time that it remains in publication will strike an appropriate balance between public interest objectives and fairness to participants involved. Other than the identity of the social worker involved, we will not identify witnesses or informants by name unless they are acting in a professional capacity.

Details about hearings and decisions made will be published on Social Work England’s website (‘the website’) and any orders made at the case examiner or adjudicator stages will be listed on Social Work England’s online register (‘the register’). Further details about our approach to publication in each type of case are set out below.

Disposal without a hearing by the case examiners

Case examiners will consider cases in private. The social worker and other parties directly involved in an investigation will be informed when a case is to be referred to the case examiners, but there is no public listing in advance of a decision being made.

Where the case examiners determine that there is a realistic prospect that a social worker’s fitness to practise is impaired, they will either refer a case to a final hearing before the adjudicators or, in suitable circumstances, offer the social worker a disposal option without a hearing.

If the social worker accepts the proposed disposal without a hearing, the case examiner’s decision will be published on the website and the outcome will appear as an annotation on the register.

The case examiners may also issue advice and warnings when they do not determine that there is a realistic prospect that a social worker’s fitness to practise is impaired. These outcomes are private and will not be published on the website or the register. In these circumstances, only the parties to the case will be informed of the outcome.

Fitness to practise allegations

If the case examiners refer a case to a final hearing before the adjudicators, we will issue a statement of case to the social worker which will include the reasons why the case examiners decided that a hearing was necessary.

Further details of the allegations a social worker is facing will be sent to the social worker in writing at least 60 days before the hearing. Allegations will then be published on the website 14 calendar days before the hearing is due to take place.

Allegations may be subject to amendments after being published as part of the listing for a hearing. Any amendments at this stage would require approval by the adjudicators, either at a preliminary case management hearing or at the outset of the scheduled final hearing.

Allegations listed on the website will not be amended until the changes are agreed by the adjudicators. In certain circumstances the details contained in an allegation will be confidential, for example where it involves a social worker’s health or where the allegation refers to identifiable information in relation to service users or colleagues.

In these circumstances, allegations will be redacted in part or in full to achieve the required outcome. Any references to service users and family members will be fully anonymised in allegations. Colleagues or other professionals involved in a case will usually be referred to by their initials. Further information about privacy at hearings is included below.

Hearings before the adjudicators

As highlighted above, hearings and allegations are published on the website 14 calendar days before the date on which the event is due to commence in order to give the public notice that the proceedings are taking place. In addition to the allegation, public listings on the website include details of the date(s), time and location of the hearing.

At the conclusion of a hearing the adjudicators’ decision and reasons, which contain the background to the case, details of evidence heard and reasons for any order imposed, will be published against the hearing listing.

Where the adjudicators impose an order, the register will also be annotated with the order and a link between this annotation and the full hearing decision will be added to the register.

Social workers may appeal against an order made by the adjudicators to the High Court of England and Wales at any time within 28 calendar days of being notified of the adjudicator’s decision. If an appeal is made during this period the decision of the adjudicators will remain in publication on the website but the order will not be added to the register.

A note will be added to the decision on the website to highlight that the decision is under appeal and has not yet been applied. Where an appeal is successful and the decision of the adjudicators is overturned the decision will be removed from publication on the website.

If the adjudicators decide that an allegation is not well founded at any of the 3 decision making stages (facts, grounds or impairment), the outcome will be published for 1 month after the conclusion of the hearing.

Period for which outcomes are published

Where the case examiners or adjudicators make a finding of impairment but decide to take no further action, the decision will be published on the website for a period of 1 year from the date that the decision was made.

Where the case examiners or adjudicators make a direction to give advice or a warning to a social worker after a finding of impairment has been made, they will also specify a period of time for which the advice or warning must remain on the register of either 1, 3 or 5 years. The annotation on the register, website entry and associated link will be removed immediately upon expiry of the specified time period.

Where the case examiners or adjudicators make a direction to give conditions of practice or a suspension, the annotation on the register and the decision on the website will remain in publication for 5 years from the point at which the conditions of practice or suspension order expires.

In the case of conditions of practice, the website entry will contain the full set of conditions to which the social worker’s registration is subject. When 5 years have elapsed following the expiry of a sanction, the annotation on the register, website entry and associated link will be removed.

Where the adjudicators make a removal order, the decision will be published on the website for a period of 5 years and the social worker will be removed from the register.

The timescales above do not apply when a finding of impairment is made based on health alone. In these circumstances, the decision will be removed from the website immediately upon expiry of the associated order.

A more detailed schedule for the publication of each outcome is included at the end of this guidance. This includes the legal authority supporting timescales for publication for each outcome.

Restoration

A social worker subject to a removal order may apply for restoration to the register after 5 years have elapsed from the date the decision took effect. Details of restoration hearings are published 14 calendar days before the date on which the event is due to commence in order to give the public notice that the proceedings are taking place.

Public listings on the website will include details of the original allegations found against the social worker resulting in the removal order along with the date(s), time and location of the restoration hearing. Decisions made at restoration hearings will be published on the website indefinitely.

If restoration is granted at the hearing, the social worker will be restored to the register with the same registration information held previously. Where a social worker is restored to the register, details of the removal order will be added to the register and will remain in publication for as long as the social worker is registered.

Public and private hearings

Our standard position is that fitness to practise final hearings will be held in public, unless the hearing is being held solely to consider the physical or mental health of a social worker.

To ensure that hearings are conducted in public, relevant details about the event are published on the website 14 calendar days in advance and members of the public, including members of the media, will be permitted to attend the event without having to provide notice.

The decision and order of the adjudicators will be published immediately after the event. In some circumstances, a public hearing may need to move into private for a limited period. For example, a social worker may wish to provide evidence about their health as mitigation in a public hearing about conduct.

Where there are grounds to hold part of a hearing in private in order to protect the identity of, or sensitive information relating to, a particular individual an application can be made to the adjudicators prior to or during the hearing.

If the adjudicators deem it appropriate to hear evidence in private, they will consider how much of the evidence heard and the supporting reasons can be made public. The adjudicators will make appropriate arrangements to ensure that only where necessary is evidence given in private. They will ensure privacy in these circumstances by requiring members of the public to vacate the room for certain parts of a hearing and arranging for suitable redactions or anonymisation to be made to the final written decision.

The adjudicators will seek to hold as much as the hearing as possible in public, without releasing details that should remain private. Where the adjudicators have proper grounds for holding an entire hearing in private, they will be required to make a public pronouncement at the conclusion of the hearing.

In cases where delivery of information may frustrate the reasons for holding evidence in private, the adjudicators may publish the outcome of a hearing with limited details about the evidence heard or supporting reasons. For example, the outcome may refer to the fact that a social worker has a health condition that impacts their fitness to practise requiring the chosen outcome, without specifying what the health condition is or how it impacts their ability to practise.

In these circumstances the publication should outline which allegations were found proven and the outcome of the hearing. If the outcome of a hearing is a conditions of practice order, the adjudicators will usually publish the details of those conditions. However, conditions of practice will be partially redacted in circumstances where they contain information which would reveal evidence that has been heard in private.

Interim orders

Where necessary, an interim suspension or conditions of practice may be applied to a social worker whilst fitness to practise investigations are ongoing. The adjudicators may take this action where they have found that the social worker may pose a risk to the public or to himself or herself if permitted to remain in practise.

Evidence is heard at interim order hearings and orders are considered on the basis of a risk based assessment, but no findings of facts are made. It is not proportionate to hold interim order hearings in public or publish the panel’s reasoning at this stage.

If an interim order is made, details of the order will be recorded against the social worker’s entry on the register. Details of the order made will be added to the hearings page but the full decision and reasoning will not be published on the website unless the social worker requests that it is published.

Annotations on the register relating to interim orders will be removed when that order ceases to have effect, either because the order is revoked or when the case in respect of the allegation to which the order is related is concluded.

Press releases

In addition to the publication of fitness to practise decisions on the hearings pages of the website, Social Work England may, in certain circumstances, issue a press release about a decision.

Press releases may also be sent out to relevant interested media and other stakeholders within the sector directly, such as employers of social workers. Press releases are drafted by Social Work England’s communication team and will contain a summary of the key findings or reasoning contained within the adjudicator’s decision.

Decisions are likely to be selected for press releases if they have generated a high level of public attention or if Social Work England determine that there are key points of learning contained within a decision that will help to promote understanding and improvement within the sector.

Press releases will not be published on the website for longer than the relevant time period set out in the schedule below.

Outcomes and publications schedule

Appendix 1

Decision Decision makers Source of powers (regulations schedule 2) On register? * Decision published on website? *
Decision No impairment, advice Decision makers Case examiners, adjudicators Source of powers (regulations schedule 2) Para 6(2)(b), Para 12(1)(b) On register? * No Decision published on website? * No if case examiners, yes if adjudicators
Decision No impairment, warning Decision makers Case examiners, adjudicators Source of powers (regulations schedule 2) Para 6(2)(a), Para 12(1)(a) On register? * No Decision published on website? * No if case examiners, yes if adjudicators
Decision Impairment, no action Decision makers Case examiners (subject to accepted disposal), adjudicators Source of powers (regulations schedule 2) Para 9(2)(a), Para 12(3)(c) On register? * Yes for 1 year (rule 49(c)) Decision published on website? * Yes
Decision Impairment, advice Decision makers Case examiners (subject to accepted disposal), adjudicators Source of powers (regulations schedule 2) Para 9(2)(b), Para 12(3)(a) On register? * Yes, for 1, 3 or 5 years as determined by the decision makers (rule 48) Decision published on website? * Yes
Decision Impairment, warning Decision makers Case examiners (subject to accepted disposal), adjudicators Source of powers (regulations schedule 2) Para 9(2)(c) and 13(1)(d), Para12(3)(b) and 13(1)(d) On register? * Yes, for 1, 3 or 5 years as determined by the decision makers (rule 48) Decision published on website? * Yes
Decision Impairment, conditions Decision makers Case examiners (subject to accepted disposal), adjudicators Source of powers (regulations schedule 2) Para 9(2)(c) and 13(1)(c), Para 12(3)(b) and 13(1)(c) On register? * Yes, for the duration of the order and then for a further 5 years (rule 49(b)) Decision published on website? * Yes
Decision Impairment, suspension Decision makers Case examiners (subject to accepted disposal), adjudicators Source of powers (regulations schedule 2) Para 9(2)(c) and 13(1)(b), Para12(3)(b) and 13(1)(b) On register? * Yes, for the duration of the order and then for a further 5 years (rule 49(b)) Decision published on website? * Yes
Decision Impairment, removal Decision makers Adjudicators Source of powers (regulations schedule 2) Para 12(3)(b) and 13(1)(a) and (2) On register? * Yes, if subsequently restored, for the duration of registration (rule 49(a)) Decision published on website? * Yes
Decision Interim order, no subsequent impairment Decision makers Adjudicators Source of powers (regulations schedule 2) Para 11(1) On register? * Yes for the duration of the interim order Decision published on website? * Yes
Decision Interim order, imposed before or after finding of impairment Decision makers Adjudicators Source of powers (regulations schedule 2) Para 11(1) On register? * Yes, for as long as any substantive order is on the register Decision published on website? * Yes

* Cases of health impairment are removed from the register on expiry of the order. Details capable of identifying health conditions are not published.

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