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Guide for witnesses

Guidance is for people appearing as a witness before a fitness to practise hearing panel for Social Work England.

Guide for witnesses

Last updated: 25 November 2019


About this guidance

This guidance is for those appearing as a witness before a fitness to practise hearing panel for Social Work England. You will have either raised a concern about a social worker or are a witness to a concern that somebody else has referred to us.


Your previous contact with Social Work England

As a witness, your role in a Social Work England hearing is very important. You will help a fitness to practise panel build a picture of what happened so they can make an informed decision in the case.

We will have notified you of the hearing date, time and venue and generally, you should have told us you are able to attend on one of a number of dates.

We understand that acting as a witness can be worrying for those involved which is why we’ve developed this guide to help you understand the hearings process and what to expect.

Reviewing your statement

When giving evidence there will be a bundle of documents, including your witness statement, available in a file on the table in front of you. Giving evidence is not intended to be a memory test and you are not expected to learn your statement by heart.

You may, however, feel more comfortable re-reading the statement you made before attending the hearing to refresh your memory. If you would like a copy of your statement, please contact us.

Giving your evidence in person under oath or affirmation means that the panel of adjudicators may ask you questions to clarify and further explore the evidence you have given.

The social worker whose case it is, if present at the hearing, may also ask you questions about the evidence you have given. This questioning may be asked by the social worker themselves or by a legal representative on their behalf.

For the panel to ensure that the hearing is fair and thorough it is important that witnesses attend, give evidence and answer questions. So that the social worker can have a fair hearing, it is also important for them to be able to ask questions of witnesses.


What to bring with you to the hearing

  1. Details of any travel and/or accommodation arrangements
  2. This guidance document which includes a map showing where we are located in Sheffield
  3. Social Work England’s telephone number (also in this document) to contact us if you’re delayed
  4. Reading glasses (if you wear them)
  5. A book or some other activity to keep you occupied while you wait to give evidence

On the day of the hearing, you will be provided with tea and coffee. We will also provide you with lunch if you are required for the full day.


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
  • A 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 five 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 and you will be sent our expenses policy before the hearing.

Queries

A team member from Social Work England’s adjudications 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 expenses, travel, or any other issues, please feel free to discuss theses with the adjudications team before the hearing.


At the hearing

Your arrival

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 and hearing support officers 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, if there’s time, show you the hearing room and where you will give your evidence. They will also speak to you about the process for giving an oath or affirmation. Social Work England’s legal representation may also clarify anything in your witness statement with you before you give evidence.

You cannot sit in the hearing room and listen to other witnesses before giving your own evidence as this may influence what you say when it is your turn to give evidence. For similar reasons, we ask you not to discuss your evidence with anyone before you give it or after you have given it until the panel has announced their decision.

Remember this is a legal process and any advanced discussions around the case can have an impact on the hearing.

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. Again, please do not to discuss your evidence with others during this time. On some rare occasions it may be that you will be asked to come back on the following 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 document, 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: a 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

Once you have taken your seat and given an oath or affirmation, the panel will introduce themselves and ask others in the room to do the same. Once any introductions are done, you will usually be asked 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. We are unable to confirm the nature of any questions but if you would like to discuss the process of giving evidence in general, please let us know.

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’s questions will be designed to clarify issues and better understand the evidence you have already given.

If the social worker is not represented or not present, the panel may ask the legal advisor to ask you questions in the interests of making sure the hearing is fair. 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.

Adjournments

It may be necessary for the hearing to adjourn (take a break) from time to time. This could be for lunch or for the panel to consider the questions they want to ask. During these periods, it’s extremely important that you do not talk to anyone about the case or the evidence you are giving or are about to give. This includes anyone involved with the case as well as family and friends.

We’ve designed our hearings centre so that you will have a relaxed room to wait in during any adjournments. This room will only be made available to witnesses and will reduce the likelihood of you accidently talking to other members of the hearing outside the proceedings.

After giving evidence

Once you’ve finished giving your evidence and have been released as a witness by the panel, you are free to leave the building. If you’d like to do so, you can stay in the hearing room and listen to the rest of the hearing.

If you do, you will be directed to the public seating at the back of the room. As previously explained, to avoid prejudicing the hearing process, we ask that you do not speak to anyone about your evidence until the panel has announced its final decision.

After the hearing

You’ll be told the outcome of the proceedings as soon as possible after they’ve been concluded. We’ll also publish the panel’s decision on our website if the social worker’s fitness to practise is found impaired.

Please make sure that you keep all your receipts for travel and expenses. You should have received an expense claim form to enable you to claim back your expenses. Please complete this and return it to Social Work England with all of the receipts. If you have not received this form, please ask for one.

Feedback

We’ll use your feedback to make changes to our service and improve the way we do things that really matter to a witness (and other people involved in the fitness to practise process). If you’d like to provide any feedback, please ask your hearing officer for a feedback form before you leave.

We know that waiting to give evidence can be daunting and that you will not remember everything covered by your hearing officer. If you have any questions, please contact us. We are here to support you and want you to feel valued, respected and informed.


Frequently asked questions

How long will the hearing last?

This will depend on the complexity of the case, however, on average a case could last between 3 and 5 days. We’ll try to make sure, as a witness, you’ll only need to attend on 1 day. Our pre-hearing case management processes aims to produce a clear witness timetable before the hearing.

What do I have to wear/what is the dress code?

You should wear clothes that you feel comfortable in but remember that fitness to practise hearings take place in a formal environment. Most people choose to wear clothing that is neat and smart. We would ask that you don’t wear denim, sportswear or trainers.

Will the hearing be filmed or recorded?

The hearing will be recorded but not filmed and a transcript will be available upon request. Depending on the length of the hearing, it can take up to 14 days for the transcript to be available.

Can I film or record the hearing?

No, but you can request a copy of transcript.

Do I have to stand up whilst giving evidence?

You’ll only have to stand when you’re giving an oath or affirmation. If you have a disability, communication difficulties or other specific needs, please tell us before the hearing so that we can make the necessary arrangements.

How many people will be in the room?

Most of the time there will be between 7 and 9 people in the hearing room. However, hearings that take place in public may include journalists and members of the public as well.

Will I have a microphone?

No, our hearing rooms are not large enough for you to need a microphone.

Can I bring a friend, partner or support worker into the room with me?

You can bring someone with you for support and they can wait with you in the witness waiting area. They can also come with you into the hearing room while you give your evidence but must not get involved with the hearing in any way. We will not normally pay expenses for people who accompany you to a hearing.

How many breaks can I take?

The amount of time it takes to give evidence can vary, but you can request a break at any point if you feel you need one. The panel will generally make sure breaks are taken every hour if evidence lasts a long time.

I haven’t got any childcare. Can I bring my children?

We do not have childcare available on site and, for health and safety reasons, our staff can’t take responsibility for children, even for short periods of time. If you have specific needs please raise them with us when we are scheduling the hearing. We will discuss what arrangements will help you to attend, for example helping arrange childcare or scheduling a hearing nearer to your home.

Can I bring my guide dog?

Yes, registered service and guide dogs are allowed.

What do I do if I’m approach by the press after a hearing has finished?</ph4

We do not recommend that you talk to the press about the case after it has finished and you have no obligation to do so. A transcript of the hearing will be available to the public after the case has closed for journalists to confirm any details. Remember that you must not speak to anyone about the case or the evidence you’ve given or are about to give before the hearing has finished and the panel have made their decision. There may be a journalist in the hearing room observing the hearing, and a few other journalists in the building during the course of the day, so bear this in mind during any conversations that you have outside the witness room.

I’m scared of repercussions. How can you protect me?

We have a witness support programme which aims to help witnesses to give evidence. If you feel that you are vulnerable due to the potential for repercussions or another issue such as health, please raise this with the hearings team as soon as you are notified of the hearing date. Although we’ll try our best to help, we can’t guarantee that you will not meet other people involved in the case.

Will there be any security staff at the hearing?

Management staff are always present at hearings and we will have security staff there if we feel it’s necessary.

Can I post about the hearing on social media, before, after or during?

Due to the sensitivity of these events, we do not recommend posting individual details about the fitness to practise hearings online. While the hearing is in progress, you must not publish anything online that may jeopardise the case.

Can I claim expenses from you?

Yes. Our expenses policy, which will be sent to you before the hearing, will set out in full the process for claiming expenses and what expenses we will reimburse.

Can you recommend any local accommodation?

Your hearing officer will contact you about travel, and if required, hotel arrangements. If you have any special requirements that you would like us to consider in relation to travel and accommodation, please let your hearing officer know. We will send you travel tickets and, if required, a hotel booking confirmation about a week before the hearing.


Glossary

Adjournment

A break in the hearing. This may be for lunch/refreshments, but can also be to gather extra evidence, if someone is taken ill during the proceedings or because the hearing has over run.

Affirmation

If you do not want to take a religious oath you can readout an ‘affirmation’ to confirm that the evidence you are about to give will be the truth.

Lay person

A professional person who is not a registered social worker.

Oath

A solemn appeal to a deity, or to some revered person or thing, to witness one's determination to speak the truth.

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