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Regulation reforms may ‘breach social workers’ human rights’

The government’s proposals to reform the regulation of social work have been met with “deep concern” by Nagalro.

The Professional Association for Children's Guardians, Family Court Advisers and Independent Social Workers believes that the proposals do not comply with the requirements of the Human Rights Act.

Draft regulations, published by the Department for Education, suggests that social workers will be at risk of being suspended from practice by unaccountable administrators, before any formal malpractice charges have been laid against them and without the opportunity to put their case to an independent tribunal.

“Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is part of UK law, guarantees everyone a ‘fair and public hearing’ before ‘an independent and impartial tribunal’. Nagalro does not believe that these proposals comply with the requirements of the Human Rights Act, or indeed the principles of natural justice which have been part of English law for many hundreds of years,” said a statement from Nagalro.

Part 2 of the Children and Social Work Act 2017 will transfer the regulation of social workers in England to a new body, to be called Social Work England. Although the consultation document claims that Social Work England will operate ‘at arm’s length from government’, sections 37 to 44 of the Act make it clear that the Secretary of State for Education will have the ability to control almost everything the regulator seeks to do, Nagalro warns.

Currently social workers in England are regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council and any allegations made against a social worker must be investigated by HCPC. If it is believed that the social worker should be suspended from practice, or restricted in the work which they can do, before formal disciplinary proceedings are commenced, an urgent hearing can be convened in front of a disciplinary tribunal who will listen to the regulator’s concerns and the social worker’s response, before coming to an independent decision about what should happen.

Under the proposed new regime, the decision would be taken by the administrator investigating the case and, while there is a right of appeal to the High Court, this is expensive and complex.

“Even if the appeal were successful, a social worker’s career may have already been destroyed before they have been formally charged with any wrong-doing, let alone convicted,” Nagalro warns.

The government has put the proposals out for consultation. Respondents need to comment by 21st March.

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