In Gleeson v Social Work England, Davies J expressed concern about SWE following its guidance “loyally but inflexibly” that may result in harsher sanctions.

The appellant (Ms Gleeson) is a social worker, first registered in 2012 and first employed by Wigan Council (“Wigan”) in 2014. She was the subject of fitness to practise proceedings brought by the professional regulator, now Social Work England (SWE), which were heard by a fitness to practise panel (“the panel”) over 9 days.

The allegations put before the panel related to the appellant’s personal life during the period of her regulation as a social worker and, specifically: (i) particular aspects of her alleged conduct during successive relationships with two persons (known below as Person A and Person B); and (ii) social media postings made by her following her suspension by Wigan after complaints made by Person B.

This process resulted in a finding that her fitness to practise was impaired by reason of misconduct and a finding that the appropriate sanction was a removal order.

The appellant appealed to the High Court against the panel’s findings, in summary, arguing that the decision of the Respondent to make a removal order against them was wrong and/or unjust because of a serious irregularity.

His Honour Judge Stephen Davies, in an extensive judgement, ruled that the allegations of misconduct found proved against the appellant in relation to Person A must be set aside, whereas the allegations of misconduct found proved in relation to Person B must stand as does the unchallenged finding of inappropriate postings on social media.  Davies J therefore remitted the matter back to a SWE panel for reconsideration of the allegations in relation to Person A.

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Admissions, Insight & Sanctions

The appellant, who was struck off, denied the allegations against her.  They argued that the denial of the allegations were held against them, hence the highest level of sanction.

For its part, SWE argued that this was not the case, but that “it does make it more difficult for a practitioner to demonstrate insight and persuade a disciplinary tribunal that the relevant conduct will not be repeated.” 

It further argued that “the absence of an admission, it was incumbent on Ms Gleeson to demonstrate by other means that she had understood the seriousness of the allegations and had taken steps to ensure that similar conduct would not occur in the future. She did not do so and, in the absence of any meaningful evidence of insight, the panel were right to find that (a) there was a risk of repetition and (b) the only appropriate sanction was a removal from the register.”

Whilst Davies J accepted the SWE argument, he expressed concern about reading sanctions guidance loyally but inflexibly without stepping back and looking at all of the circumstances at this stage, saying:

“…for example, in cases such as this: (a) the positive evidence as to the social worker’s performance of her professional duties; (b) the absence of any cross-over from her personal life to her professional life; and (c) the relatively limited nature of the allegations found proved over an extended period from 2012 to 2019, when compared with the complete absence of any evidence of repetition since 2019, then the absence of sufficient evidence of insight and remediation may mean that, in a case which is otherwise suitable for suspension, the sanction is almost inevitably removal even if, taking everything into account, that would not otherwise be justified.”

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