Postponements and adjournments of fitness to practise hearings
This guidance is for adjudicators, social workers and representatives about which postponements or adjournments might be applied for and the criteria for determining whether to grant the application.
Postponements and adjournments of fitness to practise hearings
Last updated: 16 December 2022
- Part 1: general principles
- Part 2: postponements
- Part 3: adjournments
- Part 4: general factors to consider when determining postponement or adjournment applications
- Part 5: postponing or adjourning on basis of ill health
- Part 6: interim order applications
- Part 7: early review hearings or meetings
The Fitness to Practise Rules  allow the adjudicators or the regulator  to regulate their own fitness to practise proceedings (these can be hearings or meetings). This includes being able to (do either of the following):
- adjourn or postpone proceedings when they believe it is necessary
- grant an adjournment or postponement based on an application from one of the parties (the social worker or Social Work England)
This guidance is for (all of the following):
- legal advisers
- social workers and their representatives
- Social Work England’s advocate
- our hearings staff
It details the process and decision making in relation to postponements and adjournments. This includes (all of the following):
- the difference between a postponement and an adjournment application
- the process of applying for a postponement or adjournment
- the factors to be considered by adjudicators and/or the regulator when deciding an application to postpone or adjourn
The guidance applies to all fitness to practise proceedings, including (all of the following):
- final fitness to practise hearings (where the adjudicators consider whether a social workers’ fitness to practise is impaired)
- final order reviews
- interim order applications
- interim order reviews
- restoration applications 
- non-compliance proceedings under regulation 16(4)
[note 1] Rule 32(a) and 32(b)(iv) of the Fitness to Practise Rules 2019 (as amended)
[note 2] In this context, the ‘regulator’ refers to Social Work England’s hearings team who are independent of the adjudicators, the social worker and Social Work England, in its capacity as a party to the proceedings.
[note 3] Reference to ‘social worker’ in this guidance should be read as ‘applicant’ when considering restoration postponement or adjournments.
About postponements and adjournments
A postponement is a delay to the date of proceedings after the notice of proceedings has been issued but before consideration has formally started.
In some cases, an application to delay proceedings may be made on the first day of proceedings. The adjudicators will still consider this as a postponement application.
When proceedings are postponed, we may schedule a new set of adjudicators to sit on the reconvened hearing or meeting.
An adjournment is a delay that takes place after a hearing has been formally started by Social Work England. At this stage, the adjudicators have begun considering the case against the social worker.
When a hearing is adjourned, we will usually engage the same adjudicators that were listed to sit on the original hearing to sit on the reconvened hearing.
Making an application
Either the social worker, or Social Work England, can make an application to postpone or adjourn. The same principles and requirements apply to all applications. See part 1 ‘general principles’ section for further guidance.
Adjudicators and the regulator can also decide to postpone or adjourn proceedings. They can do this without a formal application by either party.
Non-attendance of the social worker or applicant
Where the social worker or applicant does not attend the hearing, please see separate guidance about proceeding in absence of the social worker or applicant.
Part 1: general principles
Social Work England’s overarching objective is to protect the public . We do this through the efficient, fair and effective determination of fitness to practise concerns. This includes concluding cases as quickly as is reasonable.
It’s also in social workers’ interests to have cases determined as quickly as is reasonable. This avoids unnecessary stress and disruption.
Any decisions to delay proceedings must balance (both of the following):
- the interests of the social worker
- delivering Social Work England’s overarching objective
[note 4] Section 37(1) Children and Social Work Act 2017
Proceedings require a considerable amount of planning and expense, especially where witnesses are to be called. When considering whether to allow a postponement or adjournment, the adjudicators or the regulator should consider the future availability of (all of the following):
- the parties
- the adjudicators (where relevant)
Part 2: postponements
Making an application to postpone
The party making an application to postpone must make the application at the earliest opportunity. This allows the other party to respond to the application. It also allows time for the adjudicator or regulator to make a decision, before the listed hearing or meeting date.
The application should be in writing and include (all of the following):
- the reasons why the original hearing or meeting date is not practical (or no longer practical)
- explanation of when these reasons became apparent, and why a postponement is required to address and resolve these issues
- the length of the requested postponement
- explanation of why the applicant expects the time requested will allow them to resolve the issues which resulted in the application
- what actions the applicant proposes to take during the period of postponement to prepare their case. This should also include explanation of why these actions could not have been completed earlier
- dates that the applicant is available to attend a hearing in future (if they wish to do so)
- any other documentary evidence which supports the application
If the application is due to ill health, we require specific health evidence (see part 5 of this guidance).
The person making the application must provide the application and relevant documents. This is usually sent by email to the hearings case manager at [email protected]. The hearings case manager will provide the application to the other party. They will allow them to comment and respond within a set timeframe.
How applications to postpone will be determined
The hearings case manager will share the application with the other party. The other party will consider and respond to the application, specifically, whether they object to the application. The time the hearings case manager gives for the other party to respond will depend on how much time there is ahead of the scheduled hearing or meeting date.
The hearings case manager
When the other party (who did not make the application) does not oppose the postponement, the hearings case manager will usually deal with the application. They will be required to consider the application on the information and documents provided. This includes (both of the following):
- any relevant documentation provided by the applicant
- the response of the other party
The hearings case manager must act independently of Social Work England and must take into account the factors set out below.
The hearings case manager should provide written reasons for their decision to both parties.
All other applications for postponement will be considered by adjudicators ahead of proceedings (considered on the papers without the parties) or on the first day of a hearing, before the case is opened.
If a party wishes to apply for postponement within one working day of the start of the hearing, they will be required to make the application to the adjudicators on the first day of the hearing. If the party is making their application on the first day of the hearing, the adjudicators will usually expect them to do this orally. They will also expect the party to answer questions from the adjudicators (if necessary). The other party will then be able to make their response submissions orally to the adjudicators.
The factors the adjudicators should consider are set out in part 4 of this guidance. If the application is being considered before the hearing, the adjudicators can also ask for advice from a legal adviser.
If the party is making their application on the first day of the hearing, adjudicators will usually retire from the physical or virtual hearing room. They will make a decision on the postponement application in private. They will then return to the hearing and inform the parties of their decision. They will also provide written reasons.
If the application is refused
If the hearings case manager or the adjudicators refuse the postponement application, we will advise the applicant to attend the hearing on the scheduled date. The applicant and any representative must attend the hearing ready to proceed.
If the application is approved
If the hearings case manager or the adjudicators approve the postponement application, they should consider whether any further directions are required. This will help the future hearing or meeting be relisted as quickly as possible.
It will also allow both parties to be clear on any outstanding actions that will facilitate the relisting of the hearing or meeting at the earliest opportunity and help to avoid any future postponements or adjournments.
Directions may include (but are not limited to):
- directions relating to the service of documents
- obtaining further evidence
- the completion of certain actions by the social worker, their representative or Social Work England, such as ensuring a witness can attend or confirming pre-agreed hearing dates
Administrative postponement by Social Work England's hearings team
In some circumstances, the Social Work England hearings team may encounter practical difficulties in adhering to the scheduled hearing or meeting date. In these circumstances we may decide to postpone proceedings.
The circumstances will generally be limited to administrative issues (such as unforeseen or short notice changes in availability of adjudicators or legal advisers). This means the hearing or meeting cannot go ahead as there is not the personnel to do so.
Once a decision to administratively postpone has been made, we will (do all of the following):
- notify the parties of the decision
- explain the reasons for the decision
- ask the parties to provide any dates they cannot attend (if they wish to do so)
We will make every effort to avoid administrative postponements. We understand the impact a postponement can have on the proceedings, and on the parties involved.
Part 3: adjournments
The adjudicators may adjourn a hearing of their own accord. Or, they may adjourn a hearing in response to an application from either party.
An adjournment can happen at any point after the hearing has started.
Situations which may require an adjournment
Examples of situations where the adjudicators may adjourn proceedings can include but are not limited to (any of the following):
- unforeseen circumstances. For example, if the social worker or their representative, Social Work England’s advocate or a witness are unwell or unable to attend the hearing
- if an adjudicator has a previously unknown conflict of interest 
- where it is necessary to seek further information or evidence so that the adjudicators can dispose of the case justly
- there is a need to secure the attendance of a key witness through a witness summons. For example, this could be because they failed to appear at the hearing
- if the hearing has (or will) run out of time
[note 5] Rule 34, Fitness to Practise Rules 2019 (as amended) denotes that panel membership, as a minimum, must include at least one lay person and at least one social work adjudicator. If the panel is still quorate despite the late identification of a conflict of interest, the hearing could still proceed. Rule 12(4), The Social Work England (Appointment and Functions of Advisers and Constitution of Panels of Advisers) Rules 2019 (as amended) states that where the Chair of proceedings is unavailable for part of or the whole of the proceedings, the regulator may appoint another panel member, present at the start of the proceedings, to act as Chair for the whole or part of the proceedings.
If the hearing has run out of time
We have detailed pre-hearing case management processes and with respect to final fitness to practise hearings, a detailed hearing timetable. These measures should minimise the need to adjourn due to a lack of time. The adjudicators should keep to the timetable as far as it is fair and practical to do so. However, sometimes hearings will run out of time despite the best efforts of all involved.
Where a hearing has run out of time, the adjudicators and the parties should identify dates to avoid for relisting. They should do this before the hearing adjourns. The hearings officer will liaise with the hearings case manager to review the listing schedule.
Seeking the views of the parties
Where the adjudicators are considering adjourning the hearing, before making their decision, they should consider (all of the following, where relevant):
- the views of the parties
- the impact of adjournment on the parties
- the impact on the witnesses (particularly vulnerable witnesses)
- the availability of witnesses (and any risk those witnesses will not be able to participate when the hearing resumes)
- the impact adjournment would have on our overarching objective of public protection
If the parties make an application to adjourn
If one of the parties wishes to make an application to adjourn, the adjudicators will usually hear this orally. Verbal submissions will be made by the applicant. The other party will then provide a response.
Depending on the reason for the application, the panel of adjudicators will usually expect the applicant to provide supporting documentation. For example, if the applicant is making the application so that they can seek legal representation. In this instance, the adjudicators would expect to see evidence of previous attempts to seek legal representation and information about how they intend to obtain legal representation in the future.
There are special considerations that the adjudicators will need to take into account when an applicant makes an adjournment request due to ill health. See part 5 for further guidance.
Where one of the parties makes an application, the burden will be on them to establish why an adjournment is necessary and proportionate. Before deciding on the adjournment, the adjudicators should seek advice from the legal adviser.
If the application to adjourn is refused
If the application to adjourn is refused, the hearing will proceed as scheduled. The applicant and any representative must be prepared and ready to carry on with the hearing as planned.
If the application to adjourn is approved
If the application to adjourn is approved, the adjudicators should consider whether any further directions are required. This will help future hearings be relisted as quickly as possible. It will also allow both parties to be clear on any outstanding actions or directions that will facilitate the relisting of the hearing at the earliest opportunity.
Directions should focus on resolving the issue that resulted in the adjournment. However, the directions could also include any other actions that will assist with the efficient relisting of the hearing, such as agreeing a timeline for the relisting or if any further documents need to be submitted. Setting these directions at the same time as the adjournment may avoid the need for a future or further case management meeting.
Part 4: general factors to consider when determining postponement or adjournment applications
The hearings case manager or adjudicators may take into account the following factors when determining postponement and adjournment applications. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list.
Length of time since concerns were raised
In some scenarios, the applicant may be applying for a postponement or adjournment because they need to prepare or obtain evidence. In this case, consider the length of time that has passed since the concerns were raised. For instance, could the applicant have (done any of the following):
- acted earlier to avoid the need for the postponement or adjournment?
- obtained the evidence earlier?
- identified or raised the issue sooner (for example, through pre-hearing case management)?
The scheduling of a final fitness to practise hearing is closely supervised by a hearings case manager. The parties will already have had an opportunity to contribute to decisions around scheduling. This includes providing dates to avoid for themselves, their representative and their witnesses.
After the hearings case manager has finalised the date and notice has been served, applications to postpone (by either party) should be limited.
Benefit vs public interest
The hearings case manager or adjudicators should consider the benefits of granting the postponement or adjournment. For example, a benefit could be that it ensures the fitness to practise concerns are properly and fully considered. They should then consider whether the benefits outweigh the public interest (and the interests of the social worker) in disposing of the case more quickly.
The hearings case manager or adjudicators should consider whether the application is supported by credible documentary evidence (if appropriate).
The hearings case manager or adjudicators should consider whether the delay in rescheduling a hearing will be lengthy. If so, will this delay impact on the availability of witnesses to attend a hearing?
They should also consider whether a delay could cause stress to the witnesses. This could result in the witnesses being reluctant to engage at a future hearing (particularly any vulnerable witnesses).
They should also consider whether any potential negative impact of refusing the application can be avoided or mitigated. For example, if an interim order application goes ahead and an order is imposed. In this case, the social worker can still apply for early review of the order if further information becomes available. See part 6 of this guidance for more considerations in relation to interim order applications.
The hearings case manager or adjudicators should consider whether the proceedings have been previously postponed or adjourned. They should also consider on what date we can reasonably relist the hearing or meeting. They should do this in accordance with Social Work England’s hearing schedule.
In the case of a final fitness to practise hearing, they should consider whether the social worker is subject to an interim order. This includes the date on which the order is due to expire. While an interim order may protect the public during the delay, it may also restrict the social worker’s right to practise before a case is heard or determined. In some cases, an interim order may have been in place for some time. A delay to the resolution of the case may mean we need to apply to the High Court to extend the interim order.
In the case of a final order review hearing, they should consider that the review hearing must be held before the expiry of the order. Otherwise, the order will lapse. This may leave the public at risk.
In the case of an interim order review, they should consider the date when the order is due for statutory review. Missing this review date means the regulator will have failed to review the order within the timeframe specified by our regulations.
The adjudicators and the hearings case manager should consider the notice periods required for hearings. Relisting the hearing may mean there is insufficient time to give the required notice of the hearing before the order expires or the statutory review period is missed.
In some cases, there are specific considerations that the hearings case manager or adjudicators need to take into account. This is when an application to postpone or adjourn is made in relation to:
- ill health (see part 5)
- an interim order application (see part 6)
- an early review hearing or meeting (see part 7)
Please read the relevant sections for further details.
Possibility of resolution
The hearings case manager or adjudicators should consider whether a delay is likely to resolve the issue. For example, if the reason for the application is because the applicant has tried and failed to get legal representation. Will delaying the case make any difference? If the issue is the availability of a key witness, what do we know about when or if they will be available in the future?
Part 5: postponing or adjourning on basis of ill health
If a party applies to postpone or adjourn on grounds of ill health, they must provide specific medical evidence. This evidence should explain how their ill health affects their ability to take part in the fitness to practise proceedings. 
Evidence provided by medical professionals should be on headed notepaper. Ideally, this should include the medical professional’s registration number. A statement of fitness to work (also known as a ‘fit note’) provided by a General Practitioner will usually not be sufficient. This is because a person being unfit to work does not necessarily mean they’re unfit to take part in a hearing. 
The application (and the evidence provided by medical professionals) should comment on (all of the following):
- whether reasonable adjustments might allow the party to keep to the original hearing dates. For example, a change of hearing format
- why no reasonable adjustments are possible
- (if possible to say) how long the person is expected to remain unfit to attend
[note 6] Chaudhari v GPC  EWHC 3433 (Admin), held there is a need for medical evidence to demonstrate that the ill-health/health conditions prevents attendance at the hearing.
[note 7] GMC v Hayat  EWCA Civ 2796, where the court found that a pro-forma sick note might well be insufficient to justify non-attendance at a hearing, particularly if it referred only to an unfitness to attend work.
In some cases, the social worker may note a stress-related illness as the reason for their application to delay the hearing. However, stress caused solely by the fitness to practise proceedings will usually not be enough to support an application. This is because the stress will recur when the hearing resumes . This means an adjournment or postponement is unlikely to serve any useful purpose. The adjudicators or the regulator should instead consider what adjustments may be made to support engagement.
[note 8] Forresters Ketley v Brent & Another  EWCA Civ 324, Lewison LJ said that “An adjournment is not simply there for the asking. Whilst the court must recognise that litigants in person are not used to the stress of appearing in court as professional advocates, nevertheless something more than stress occasioned by the litigation will be needed to support an application for an adjournment. In cases where the applicant complains of stress-related illness, an adjournment is unlikely to serve any useful purpose because the stress will simply recur on an adjourned hearing”.
Part 6: interim order applications
A social worker may apply to postpone a hearing or meeting that will determine an interim order application. If Social Work England do not agree to postpone, the adjudicators will only consider the application to postpone on the scheduled day of the hearing or meeting.
If Social Work England agrees to postpone, the hearings case manager will usually consider the application in advance of the hearing.
There are additional factors to consider when deciding whether to postpone an interim order application. These are (all of the following):
- the urgent nature of the application
- the risk to public protection
- the wider public interest
- the interests of the social worker
- the scope of an interim order decision
Urgent nature of the application
The purpose of an interim order application is to urgently consider whether the adjudicators should restrict or suspend a social worker’s registration during a fitness to practise investigation.
The regulator will refer a case to the adjudicators for an interim order application. They will do this when they have received information during an investigation which suggests the social worker may present a risk to the public (or themselves).
This means there is a strong need to determine the interim order application as soon as is practical. This ensures we uphold our overarching objective of protecting the public.
Social Work England's overarching objective
The hearings case manager or adjudicators must decide each request for postponement on its merits. However, the need for public protection carries significant weight. This is especially important when considering the postponement of an interim order application hearing or meeting.
The scope of an interim order decision
Adjudicators determining whether to impose an interim order do not make findings about whether the concerns are proved or not. The adjudicators consider the available information and decide, on the basis of risk, whether it is necessary to impose an interim order. This may be necessary for the protection of the public, or in the best interests of the social worker.
The scope of an interim order decision is limited. An interim order is a temporary measure, which only affects the period of time before the final fitness to practise decision. This means that some issues are less relevant when considering whether to postpone an interim order hearing or meeting. For example, if there is an issue around obtaining evidence, then that is more relevant to the final fitness to practise hearing.
If new information becomes available after an interim order is imposed, the social worker or Social Work England can request an early review of the interim order. This will be relevant to the balancing exercise between risk to public safety and the social worker’s interests.
Part 7: early review hearings or meetings
Sometimes, we will schedule an early review hearing or meeting. This is because we have received new evidence which suggests we need to make changes to an existing order. These changes may be necessary to ensure public protection.
The adjudicators may decide to (do one of the following):
- change the content of an order. For example, add, remove or amend some conditions of practice
- replace the order with another order that might be more or less restrictive. This depends on the reason for the early review
When deciding whether to postpone an early review hearing or meeting, it may also be relevant to consider (all of the following):
- the potential urgent nature of the application
- the risk to public protection
- the risk to the wider public interest
- the interests of the social worker
Last update: 16 December 2022
- Updated to refer to the regulations correctly following amendment
Previous update: 29 July 2022
- Language review carried out to make document more accessible
- Clearer information about how and when to apply for a postponement or adjournment
- Clearer information about roles and responsibilities relating to postponements and adjournments between the adjudicators and the regulator
- Clearer information for the adjudicators and the regulator about what factors to consider when deciding to grant a postponement or adjournment
- Clearer information relating to administrative postponements by the hearings team
First published: 2 December 2019