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Guidance on hearings for social workers

Guidance for social workers who have had an allegation made against them that is proceeding to a hearing.

Guidance on hearings for social workers

Last updated: 25 November 2019


About this guidance

This guidance is for social workers who have had an allegation made against them that is proceeding to a hearing. The aim is to provide useful information about the process a case goes through and the possible outcomes of a case.

Read more about other parts of the fitness to practice process, for example how we assess and progress a complaint. We recommend you also have a look at the information about the adjudications and hearings processes.

This guide is not intended to be a substitute to you seeking legal advice or support from your professional association or union (if you have one). The end of this guide also gives details of other organisations that may assist you or give further advice about the fitness to practice process.

Types of hearing

The adjudications team will notify you if a hearing is going to take place and will send you a notice of hearing with details of where and when it will occur and invite you to attend.

Hearing case managers handle all key aspects of the scheduling process including arranging a date for the hearing and agreeing and carrying out instructions given by the hearing panel. These instructions may include notifying you of the date of a hearing and dates for any disclosure of information between you and Social Work England. Read more about our pre-hearing case management process and pre-hearing meetings.

For all hearings, you have the right to:

  • be legally represented, or to represent yourself
  • be represented by a member of an organisation of which you are a member, or by a friend or family member, whether or not they’re legally qualified
  • prepare and produce statements and documents in support of your case
  • call any witnesses, including expert witnesses, in support of your case

If you do not have legal representation, you’ll be given the opportunity to meet the independent legal assessor who will be assisting the panel during the hearing. The legal assessor will be able to explain the fitness to practise process but will not be able to give any legal advice.


Interim orders

If we receive a concern that is very serious, we may apply for an interim order to prevent you from practising (interim suspension order), or to place limits on your practice (interim conditions of practice order) until your hearing has ended.

We may apply for an interim order in cases where the concern suggests that you may be a risk to yourself or other people, or where it’s in the public’s interest to do so. The Social Workers Regulations 2018 (Paragraph 11 of schedule 2) outlines the conditions for an interim order application to be granted. If we decide to apply for an interim order, the case will first go through our fast track process.

This means the case examiners will decide whether an interim order application meets the required conditions, and if so, will refer the case to the adjudications team to arrange a hearing. At the hearing, a panel will consider the interim order application and make a decision about whether or not the order will be imposed.

You will be invited to attend the hearing and are entitled to be legally represented or represent yourself. It’s important that you inform us as soon as possible if you’d like to participate.

If an interim order is imposed, it will be reviewed after 6 months and then every 3 months after that.

If you choose not to attend the hearing, the panel may still decide to proceed without you. Before making their decision about whether or not to go ahead, the panel will need to take into account a number of factors. These factors include whether we have complied with our statutory duty to give you proper notice of the hearing and whether it is fair to proceed without you.

Where will the hearing beheld?

Hearings are normally held at our dedicated facilities in Sheffield but, in exceptional circumstances, may be held at another location. If it’s not possible for you to come to an interim order hearing in person, the hearing panel may allow you to give your evidence remotely, for example, by video link, Skype, or in exceptional circumstances, by phone.

If you think you may need to rely on one of these methods, you need to tell the hearing case manager immediately. We need to know early enough in the process for us to arrange the relevant facilities, providing we think your request is reasonable.

Interim order reviews

If the outcome of your hearing is an interim suspension or conditions order, your case will be allocated to the case review team. They will monitor and collect evidence of your compliance with the conditions or suspension.

Interim orders are reviewed periodically as long as they’re in place. There will be an initial review at 6 months and then every 3 months until it expires (up to a maximum of 18 months).

For each review, your case review officer will produce a report and evidence bundle for our external legal provider, Capsticks. Your case review officer will write to you before each report and bundle is produced to see if there is any additional evidence you’d like to be considered at the review.

If you do not provide your evidence in the designated timescales, fail to respond to any follow up requests, or if there is evidence to suggest you may have breached your conditions or suspension, the case review officer may request an early review.

This normally takes place when the concerns are raised meaning it might be much earlier than the next review was scheduled for. Your case review officer will write to you to let you know they are requesting an early review. They will also send a report and evidence bundle to Capsticks which will outline why they believe the early review is necessary.


Final hearing

If the case examiners decide your case should be referred for a hearing but an interim order is not necessary, we will arrange for your case to be heard at a full hearing.

Preparing a case for a hearing

If your case is referred to a hearing, we’ll ask our legal services provider to act on our behalf. They’ll prepare the case for the hearing by gathering information and taking witness statements from people they believe have relevant information about the matter.

This might include a statement from the person who originally brought the concern to our attention, the complainant. Any witnesses asked to attend a hearing to give evidence will be asked questions by our legal representative. You (or your representative) will also get the chance to ask them questions.

In exceptional circumstances, witnesses may be considered vulnerable due to their particular circumstances. This may mean they will be allowed to be questioned with special measures. More details about vulnerable witnesses and special measures can be found on our website.

Representation at a hearing

Preparing written statements and documents in response to the concern will help the panel’s understanding of the situation. These statements may come from yourself or include those from witnesses or individuals who want to attest to your character.

You may call witnesses to give evidence to the panel under oath as well as giving evidence yourself. If you do not have legal representation, you’ll be given the opportunity to meet the independent legal adviser who will be assisting the panel during the hearing.

The legal adviser will be able to explain the fitness to practise process to you but will not be able to give you any legal advice. It’s up to you to decide whether or not you want to be represented, but it may be helpful to get advice from your defence organisation or professional body (if you are a member of either), or to get independent legal advice from a law centre or the Citizens Advice Bureau.

There is a list of other organisations that may be useful for you to contact at the end of this page. Even if you’re unrepresented, we still encourage you to attend your hearing in person to answer any questions the panel may have.

Before the hearing

Before we schedule your case for a hearing, we’ll invite you and you your legal representative (if you have one) to take part in our pre-hearing case management process.

You will be invited, along with our legal team, to complete a pre-hearing questionnaire and take part in a telephone conference to discuss the practical issues relating to the hearing. This might include, for example, finding a suitable hearing date, identifying the number of witnesses to be called, and agreeing dates when information will be disclosed between the parties.

The pre-hearing case management process allows you and Social Work England to communicate effectively with each other. All communication is facilitated by a neutral Social Work England hearings case manager who has no involvement in the fitness to practice investigation.

This helps both sides reach an agreement about the effective management of the hearing. If you do not take part in the pre-hearing case management process, the hearing case manager will not be able take into account any requests or requirements you have as to when the hearing will take place.

The hearings team cannot guarantee to schedule the hearing at a time that suits everyone but will try to accommodate any requests as best they can. This is why it’s important for you (or your representative) to take part in the pre-hearing process from the beginning.

This pre-hearing process is not the time for any party to consider the merits of the case or the reliability of any of the evidence. More details about this process can be found in our pre-hearing case management guidance. You will be sent a copy of this document by the hearings case manager once your case has been referred for a hearing.

You will be sent the location of the hearing and details of the allegations made against you at least 28 days before the agreed date of the hearing. At least 2 weeks before the date of the hearing we will publish on our website the date of the hearing and the allegations against you on our website.

Where will the hearing be held?

As with hearings for interim orders, substantive hearings are normally held at our dedicated facilities in Sheffield apart from in exceptional circumstances. The provisions for giving evidence by video, online video conference or phone are exactly the same as with an interim order hearing. Once again, if you think you or one of your witnesses may need to rely on an alternative method for giving evidence, you need to let the hearing case manager know as soon as possible.

Attending the hearing

It’s in your best interest to attend the hearing as this is your chance to present your case. You will also have an opportunity to question the witnesses called by Social Work England. If you are not present then you will not get the opportunity to question the witnesses on any points in their statements that you do not agree with, or be able to clarify any other matters that you may consider are relevant.

If you do you not attend, you may give a written statement to be read out in your absence and may submit other documents as part of your evidence. This information will be taken into consideration by the panel before they make their decision.

If you choose not to attend the hearing, the panel may still decide to proceed in your absence. Before making this decision, the panel will need to take into account a number of factors, such as whether we have complied with our statutory duty to give you proper notice of the hearing, and whether it is fair to proceed in your absence.

If you (or our legal team) want an adjournment (to postpone the hearing), it needs to be explained why it should be granted. Panels should not grant adjournments simply because it would be more convenient for us, you or your representative to have the hearing at another time. You must present good reasons for this to happen.

Panel decision making

A panel of adjudicators will be assigned to any case that goes to a hearing. The panel will be made up of a chair, lay person and qualified social worker. Panels are independent of Social Work England and make decisions based on the information to reach a fair decision and in accordance with the relevant law(s).

At the hearing, the panel will consider the facts of an allegation, whether the facts have been proven on statutory grounds (under regulation25 (1) and 25 (2)), and if your fitness to practice is currently impaired. It’s up to the panel to decide whether or not to break the facts, statutory grounds, and impairment into separate steps depending on the complexities of the case.

Hearing outcomes and sanctions

If the hearing panel decides that your fitness to practise is impaired, they will then consider whether a sanction is required. Sanctions should be the minimum necessary to protect the public and the wider public interest. The indicative sanctions guidance sets out the factors a panel may consider when deciding whether a sanction is appropriate. In summary, a panel may decide to:

  • take no further action
  • issue advice or a warning
  • impose conditions on a social worker’s practice for up to 3 years
  • suspend their registration for up to 3 years
  • remove a social worker from the register


Review hearings

If the outcome of your hearing is a suspension or conditions order (including if this is an interim order whilst an investigation is ongoing), your case will be allocated to the case review team. They will monitor your compliance with the conditions or suspension, including requesting and storing the evidence required in your order.

This will be used to inform the decisions made at a review hearing. Unlike review hearings for an interim order, if your conditions or suspension are the result of a substantive case, a review hearing takes place just before the order expires.

This review is to allow a panel of adjudicators to decide whether or not you have shown appropriate remediation and if you can move towards full and unrestricted practise. At a review hearing for a substantive case, the panel may decide to:

  • continue with your current conditions or suspension and extend the duration of the order
  • replace your suspension order with a conditions order
  • replace your conditions order with a suspensions order
  • vary your conditions (to account for new or altered concerns)
  • return you to full and unrestricted practise with a warning

If you have a conditions order, you will need to send your case review officer evidence of your compliance with your conditions periodically while the order is in place. Although compliance with the order is your responsibility, your case review officer will send you a letter once the order starts to set out what evidence is needed and when.

Your case review officer will securely store all the evidence that you send them ready to create a report and an evidence bundle for the review hearing. If you have a suspension order without any recommendations, there will not be any set evidence you need to provide to your case review officer for the review hearing. However, your case review officer will write to you before the end of the order to ask if you have anything you want to present to the panel. It’s up to you if you choose to send anything and anything you do send will be added to the report and evidence bundle for the hearing.

If you have a suspension order with recommendations, although it’s unlikely you’ll have a set time frame for you to complete the recommendations, completion of the recommendations will be considered at the review hearing.

Your case review officer will write to you periodically to remind you of the recommendations and you can submit your evidence to them at any time. They will send a final letter before the submission of their report and evidence bundle to ask if you have anything you want to present to the panel. It’s up to you if you choose to send anything to your case review officer and anything you do send will be added to the report and evidence bundle for the hearing.

Before the end of the conditions or suspension order, your case review officer will send the completed report and evidence bundle to our external legal provider, Capsticks, who will send the report and evidence bundle to you. Capsticks will also get in touch with your case review officer if there is any additional information needed or if anything needs clarifying.

If you have any further evidence or reports you’d like to send for consideration, you can continue to send them to your case review officer, who will send them on to Capsticks.

Early review hearings

If you do not provide your evidence in the designated timescales, fail to respond to any follow up requests, or if there is evidence to suggest you may have breached your conditions or suspension, the case review officer may request an early review.

This normally takes place when the concerns are raised meaning it might be much earlier than the next review was scheduled for. Your case review officer will write to you to let you know they are requesting an early review. They will also send a report and evidence bundle to Capsticks which will outline why they believe the early review is necessary.


Practical tips for effective questioning and probing techniques

Decide in advance the questions you want to ask witnesses about their statements. If you disagree with anything, explain why you disagree and ask them to comment. You may also want to raise any issues that support your case but that are not in their statements.

You should try to keep the tone of your questioning neutral regardless of how the witness may react to your questions. You need to ensure you remain polite and ask questions in a respectful manner.

Question types

There are several known types of questioning techniques that may help when you need to cross-examine a witness. Some of the most common questioning techniques that have been used at hearings include the following:

Open ended questioning

This style of questioning is used to find out more information about a particular situation. These questions can be used to explore the witnesses’ opinions or perspective more deeply and often start with ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’.

Closed ended questioning

This style of questioning is often used to find out or confirm very specific details, or to validate your understanding of a situation. Closed questions can also be used to conclude your questioning.

Funnel questioning

This technique is useful for gathering very specific information about the past (using closed-ended questions), which helps to establish facts about a situation or to help set a scene. Once the facts have become clear, you should ask effective open-ended questions that will help to further explore the witnesses’ opinions or issues.

Probing questions

This technique involves asking for more information about a previous statement. This is useful if you need more information to clarify a situation or if you need to sort out an issue by uncovering layers of details, opinions or feelings. You are not limited to the questioning techniques in this list and you may wish to do your own research.


Our rules and practice notes

View our rules and guidance


Personal requirements

Social Work England has an equality and diversity policy which sets out our duty to treat people fairly and make reasonable adjustments to our processes if required. If you wish to discuss anything with us before a hearing that you think we need to accommodate, please let the hearing officer and hearings support officer know as soon as possible.

Our facilities have been developed to help make our services accessible and our employees have undergone equality and diversity training. They are trained to, among other things, make reasonable adjustments to make sure everyone is able to participate in a hearing.

We want to make you feel as comfortable as possible. Please let us know in advance if you’d like any help accessing our services. This can include (but is not limited to) having access to:

  • Mobility assistance or wheelchair access
  • A hearing loop
  • Sign language
  • A prayer room and breaks
  • Dietary requirements, including allergies
  • Nursing room and breaks
  • Translation services
  • Large print
  • Help with reading
  • Storage for medication
  • Bringing a personal carer or assistant
  • Bringing a mental health support worker


Location and contact

Social Work England is located in Sheffield at the following address: 1 North Bank, Blonk Street, Sheffield,S3 8JY. Any general enquiries about our hearing procedures can be sent to [email protected].


Travelling to Social Work England

By train

Sheffield is at the heart of the railway network and is just a 10 minute walk away from Social Work England. Regular services operate between Sheffield and London St. Pancras (taking just over 2 hours), Birmingham (taking 1.25 hours), Leeds (taking 1 hour) Manchester (taking 1 hour) and Nottingham (taking 1 hour).

By coach

National Express operates a comprehensive coach service to most parts of the country from Sheffield Transport Interchange, Pond Street, which is a 5 minute walk away from Social Work England. The fastest service to London takes about 3.5 hours.

By tram

The Fitzalan Square/Ponds Forge tram stop is less than 5 minutes’ walk away from Social Work England.

By car

The nearest car park is NCP Blonk Street. We will normally ask you to arrange any overnight accommodation and book travel tickets but we can do this for you if required. We will reimburse you for your travel to and from Social Work England.

Any questions?

A team member from Social Work England’s hearing team will have spoken to you before the hearing and confirm with you which days and what times you are required to attend. If you have any concerns about attending, travel, or any other issues, please feel free to discuss these with the adjudications team before the hearing.


Arriving at Social Work England

You will already have been told at what time you need to be at Social Work England for your hearing. Please arrive in good time and take into account any delays which may occur, like city centre traffic or public transport delays.

On your arrival at 1 North Bank you will be directed to the waiting area. The hearings officers, hearing support officers or reception team will show you to the waiting area in our purpose-built suite.

Once you are in the waiting area, a hearings officer or hearing support officer will discuss the process with you and your representative (if present). You’ll be given the opportunity to get settled in the hearing room before the panel arrives.

If you are not represented, the legal advisor will speak to you and a hearings officer about the hearing, what to expect, and answer any questions you may have. If you are represented, the legal representative for Social Work England may also ask to speak to you and your representative before the hearing starts.

Delays

As with any legal proceedings, there might be delays during the day. We’ll make sure you’re informed of any delay and kept up to date throughout the day.

The layout of the hearing

The hearing will take place on the ground floor and a hearing officer will come and get you when it’s your turn to give evidence. If you have any mobility issues that we should be aware of in advance, please do let us know.

There will be a number of different people in the hearing room:

Panel members: as explained earlier in this guidance, the panel usually consists of a panel chair, a lay person and a qualified social worker. The panel will be tasked with making a decision on the case based on the facts and evidence presented.

Witness: a person giving evidence on behalf of Social Work England or the social worker.

Transcriber: the person who will take notes during the entire proceedings. Not all hearings have a transcriber, however, there are occasions where one is required.

The social worker and their representative (if they are present).

A Social Work England representative: Social Work England’s legal representative who will present the case to the panel.

Hearings officer: a member of Social Work England staff who makes sure the hearing runs smoothly.

Hearing support officer: a member of Social Work England staff who assists the hearings officer as well as supporting witnesses and others at the hearing.

Legal advisor: we will appoint a legal advisor to provide advice to the hearing panel and any other participants. The legal advisor does not take an active role in the decision making of the panel but may provide legal advice. If the legal advisor gives the panel advice during a break they will be repeat it on the record and give you and Social Work England’s legal representative an opportunity to comment on that advice. The legal advisor’s primary role is to ensure that there is a fair hearing.

Normally the hearings will take place in public. If this is the case, there may be journalists and other observers present. However, sometimes the panel may decide that the hearing should be held in private. For example, if personal health details about the social worker in question, or a witness, are due to be discussed. During private sessions, journalists and any other observers will be asked to leave.

Taking photos is strictly forbidden, however, journalists can request a copy of the transcript to confirm exactly what has been said.

Microphone system

The hearing room is set up with a microphone system. The hearings staff will inform everyone in the room when recording has started. You will not need to press anything to activate your microphone.

The oath or affirmation

You will be asked to give an oath or affirmation. You will have a choice whether to swear an oath on a religious text or take a non-religious affirmation to attest the truth of your evidence. You will be asked to repeat the words of the oath or affirmation and then invited to take your seat.

Taking an oath or affirmation is an important part of our proceedings because it allows the panel to place more weight on the things you say during your evidence. Each hearing room will have a range of religious texts if you choose to take an oath.

Hearings officers and hearing support officers will discuss the process of taking an oath or affirmation before the hearing, however, please let us know in advance if you have any particular requirements.


Giving your evidence

If you decide to give evidence at your hearing you will be asked to take an oath or affirmation. Once any introductions have been completed, you will usually be asked by your representative to confirm your signature and that your witness statement remains correct. You may be asked any other questions for clarification.

The legal representative for Social Work England may then ask you questions. There may then be questions from the panel members. This might take place after a short period of adjournment or a break during which the panel members decide on the questions they want to ask you.

The panel chair will make sure the hearing is managed fairly and the questioning is not unreasonable, repetitive or hostile. Nobody will be allowed to raise their voice at you while you are giving evidence, but the questions may come across as challenging and you may feel under pressure.

Nobody will be able to ask you questions which are unfair, offensive or distressing. If at any stage you need to take a break, please let the panel chair know.

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