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Harsh, but Legal

Sheriff sets out limitations of court challenge to strike-off decisions

A SINGLE conviction involving alcohol and swearing at a police officer was enough for a social worker to be removed from the professional register.

 An appeal against the decision of the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) was made to the Sheriff at Dundee on the grounds that the panel’s decision was out of all proportion to the offence, and failed to take into account the lead-up to the incident.

This was that the Registrant had suffered homophobic bullying, and had began abusing alcohol, but had now recognised this and taken steps to deal with it.

But the Sheriff said that the law on this point meant that the professional body’s decisions could only be challenged in limited circumstances.

“The determination of a specialist tribunal is entitled to respect ... It is in a better position than the court to determine whether, for example, a social worker's fitness to practice is impaired by reason of misconduct, including whether the public interest requires such a finding.”

The Sheriff said he had “every sympathy” for the social worker as he had reflected upon his failings and was determined to improve his situation, but the law did not permit him to overturn the decision simply because it was harsh.

“The penalty was severe, indeed there cannot be a more severe outcome than removal from the Register, but as the cases cited to me make abundantly clear I cannot, as a matter of law, interfere with their discretion to protect the integrity of their profession, simply because I might have selected a lesser penalty.”

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