Note in box added 18.1.17

We have since learnt that the Professional Standards Authority automatically reviews all serious decisions by the HCPC on fitness to practice.

The issue for the Transparency Project is not the decision itself but the lack of transparency about reasons and the impact of this on public confidence.

We note the PSA helpfully publishes it’s (anonymised) decisions not to act. As well as the judgments or consent orders from court decisions where it does decide to appeal the HCPC decision to court.


Second Note in box added 20.1.17

See also: The HCPC Fitness to Practice Publication Policy and Celtic Knots reflections at Twit Longer

The Transparency Project do intend to write to the PSA on the Transparency issues arising


The discussion

An important conversation burst out on twitter last night, with the suggestion that the three social workers found by the family court to have lied on oath, may now have been cleared of professional misconduct by the Health and Care Professions Council.

If so this raises serious questions as to why; and about the transparency of HCPC decision making, in cases of particular importance to public confidence in the social work profession.

The case

A, B, C, D & E (Final Hearing), [2015] EWFC B186 was heard in the family court at Portsmouth on 18 November 2015 by His Honour Judge Horton.

The earlier judgments dated 7 April 2014 and 18 December 2014 contain the full details. But introducing the judgment setting out his final decision, His Honour Judge Horton said:

  • my experience it is exceptional to find a case in which there has been deliberate and calculated alteration of a report prepared by one social worker in order to make that assessment seem less favourable, by another social worker and the Team Manager; the withholding of the original report when it was ordered to be disclosed and the parties to the alterations lying on oath one of them twice, in order to try to cover up the existence of the original report. Those people are referred to and named in my December judgment but given the enormity of what they did and the fact they still work as social workers it is right that I should name them again so that practitioners and members of the public coming across them are aware of their shortcomings in this case.
  • Sarah Walker Smart the children’s Social Worker lied twice to me on oath. I was told during this hearing that she has been promoted to Team Manager within this authority.
  • Kim Goode, Sarah Walker Smart’s then Manager, was the person who initiated the wholesale alteration of the original report and who attempted to keep the truth from the parties and me. At the time of the last hearing she was District Manager for the Isle of Wight. I was told during this hearing that she is still in post.
  • Lisa Humphreys was Kim Goode’s Manager. Her evidence was deeply unimpressive. She made a ‘hollow’ apology to the parents during her evidence; she regarded a social worker lying on oath as “foolish” and she failed to accept any personal responsibility for what had gone on under her management. At the date of the last hearing she was Assistant Director of Children’s Social Care with Lambeth Borough Council.

Suespicious Minds explained the case here at the time, calling it ‘deeply shocking stuff’.

The Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC)

The HCPC is the regulatory body set up to regulate social workers, among other health and social care professionals.

It maintains and publishes a Register of health professionals that meet it’s standards.

The ‘fitness to practice’ decision

It also investigates the ‘fitness to practice’ of registrants, including on referral from the public.

The decision the HCPC had to make was whether these social workers were ‘fit to practise’

The HCPC say this means ‘that they have the skills, knowledge, character and health they need to practise their profession safely and effectively. 

And that ‘fitness to practise is not just about professional performance. It also includes acts by a registrant which may affect public protection or confidence in the profession.’

That ‘If a registrants fitness to practise is ‘impaired’, it means that there are concerns about their ability to practise safely and effectively. This may mean that they should not practice at all. Or that they should be limited in what they are allowed to do.’

The social workers themselves would have had an obligation to inform the HCPC of the findings made by the family court against them, triggering a duty on the HCPC to investigate.

 The Standards

The HCPC decision is measured against published Standards of Performance and Ethics (revised January 2016).

‘When we are deciding whether we need to take any action against a registrant to protect the public, we look at whether the registrant has met these standards.’

Other standards are likely to apply but Standard 9 alone raises real questions as to how the social workers remain fit to practice, if that is what has been decided:

Be honest and trustworthy

Personal and professional behaviour

  1. You must make sure that your conduct justifies the public’s trust and confidence in you and your profession.


Publication of decisions

HCPC decisions to take action against a professional found not fit to practise are published but decisions and reasons relating to those not made out don’t seem to be.

That may make some sense in a typical stand-alone case. But where as here, (unusually) the names of the social workers and the findings by a family court of their serious professional misconduct are already in the public domain, yet they (seem to) have gone on to be found fit to practise by the HCPC, there is a serious lack of transparency by way of complete absence of any explanation for that decision.

There may be an adequate reason but the public (and other professionals at pains to uphold high standards of professional conduct, in a challenging occupation), are not able to see it.

The public interest in the integrity of decision making by public servants taking decisions of the utmost seriousness in the name of the public; and of the professional body charged with upholding this, could not be higher.

Confidence in the family courts and child protection system seems to many to be at an all time low.

The evidence of professional misconduct by way of family court findings (not overturned on appeal or reconsidered) is unarguable.

The HCPC decision in this exceptional case surely demands that cogent reasons are made public.

If, as may be the case, the social workers have been properly exonerated for good reason, they are likely to want this information in the public domain themselves. No doubt they could permit publication as an exception to the general rule. If not, one must wonder why.

Asking the HCPC

We propose to tweet a copy of this blog to the HCPC and would welcome their comment.