Mrs Joanne Leach

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW96119

Hearing Type: Review Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 11:30 03/08/2018 End: 16:00 03/08/2018

Location: Health and Care Professions Tribunal Service (HCPTS), 405 Kennington Road, London, SE11 4PT

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Struck off

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Allegation

The following allegation was considered by a panel of the Conduct and Competence Committee at the substantive hearing on 11 August 2017.

While registered as a Social Worker:

1. On 11 January 2016, you accepted a police caution for Theft.

2. By reason of your caution as set out in paragraph 1, your fitness to practise as a Social Worker is impaired.

The panel at the substantive hearing found particular 1 proved and that the Registrant’s fitness to practise was currently impaired.

Finding

Preliminary matters

Service

1. On 29 June 2018, the HCPC sent the Notice of Hearing by first class post to the Registrant’s registered address. A copy of the Notice was also sent to the Registrant by email. The Notice contained the required particulars.

2. Having heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor, the Panel was satisfied on the documentary evidence provided that the Registrant had been served Notice of this hearing in accordance with the Rules.

Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant

3. Mr Mason, on behalf of the HCPC, applied for the hearing to proceed in the Registrant’s absence. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor, who advised that the discretion to proceed in a Registrant's absence should only be exercised with the utmost care and caution.

4. The Panel noted that the Registrant had not engaged at the substantive hearing, the last communications received from her being written representations dated 11 December 2016. No further communications have been received from the Registrant. It follows that the Registrant has not applied for an adjournment, nor has she submitted any representations for this review hearing.

5. The Panel was satisfied that the HCPC had fulfilled its obligations and taken all reasonable steps to serve the Notice on the Registrant in accordance with the Rules.

6. Given that it had found that there had been good service of the Notice for today’s (3 August 2018) hearing, the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant was or ought to be aware of today’s hearing. The Panel, therefore, concluded that the Registrant had voluntarily waived her right to attend and there was no evidence that she would attend an adjourned hearing. The Panel also considered that it was in the public interest for the hearing to take place, as this was a statutory review of a substantive Order due to expire.

Background

7. The Registrant is registered with the HCPC as a Social Worker and, at the material time, was employed by Norfolk County Council as a Social Worker.

8. On 11 January 2016, the Registrant accepted a police caution for an offence of theft in relation to an incident regarding items taken from Sainsbury’s Supermarket totalling £491.00. The Registrant was referred to the HCPC by her employer on 18 February 2016.

9. On 11 August 2017, the substantive hearing was held, which the Registrant did not attend. The substantive panel found facts, grounds and impairment of fitness to practise. In relation to impairment, the substantive panel observed that it had seen no evidence of insight, remorse or any steps taken towards remediation. As such, at that time it was unable to assess the risk of repetition and was unable to conclude other than that there was a risk of repetition. It also considered that the Registrant’s dishonesty would have damaged the reputation of the profession and undermined public confidence in the Social Work profession. The substantive panel imposed a Suspension Order for 12 months.

Decision

10. Mr Mason, on behalf of the HCPC, submitted that there was no new evidence before the Panel of the Registrant’s current position. He submitted that consequently the Registrant’s fitness to practise remained impaired. He said that there had been no engagement from the Registrant since her letter of 11 December 2016, and so invited the Panel to consider whether a Striking Off Order was the appropriate Order.

11. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel exercised its independent judgement in determining whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains impaired. It had regard to the HCPTS Practice Note on “Finding that Fitness to Practise is ‘Impaired’” and the HCPC Indicative Sanctions Policy (the Policy).

12. This reviewing Panel had regard to the findings of the substantive panel to the effect that the Registrant’s dishonesty had breached a fundamental tenet of the profession, namely honesty and integrity. The Panel was concerned that there had been no engagement from the Registrant with her Regulator for at least 18 months.

13. As a consequence, the Panel had no information before it to demonstrate that the Registrant had reflected on her actions or had gained insight into the adverse impact her dishonesty would have had on the reputation of the profession. In particular, given the absence of any information from the Registrant about her current circumstances, the Panel was not confident that she understood the importance of trust for the role of a Social Worker, and the damaging impact that dishonesty would have on the profession and vulnerable service users reliant upon such professionals. As such, this Panel was unable to evaluate the risk of repetition, and was unable to conclude other than that the risk of repetition of the behaviour which gave rise to the police caution remained.

14. Accordingly, the Panel is of the view that the risks identified at the substantive hearing remain, and that the Registrant’s fitness to practise consequently remains impaired on the grounds of both public protection and the wider public interest in maintaining public confidence in the profession and declaring and upholding proper standards of conduct and professionalism.

15. In relation to sanction, it was the Panel’s view that there was a need to impose a sanction which would address the public interest of maintaining public confidence in the profession and declaring proper standards of competence and behaviour. The Panel therefore concluded that the options of taking no further action or imposing a Caution Order would not achieve this.

16. In respect of a Conditions of Practice Order, the Panel agreed with the views of the substantive panel that, in the absence of evidence of engagement, the Panel could not formulate workable, practicable or proportionate conditions, nor was it reassured that the Registrant would be either willing or able to cooperate with such an Order. In any event, the Panel was not satisfied that conditions would address the underlying issue of dishonesty in this case, nor would they address the wider public interest.

17. In respect of a Suspension Order, the Panel was mindful that it had no information before it to indicate that the Registrant was in a position to remedy her dishonesty. As a result, it had earlier concluded that it was unable to rule out that there was a risk of repetition of dishonesty, with the consequent risk of ongoing damage to the reputation of the profession.

18. The Panel had regard to paragraph 6 of the Policy, which states that, “Panels must also give appropriate weight to the wider public interest, which includes:

• the deterrent effect to other registrants;
• the reputation of the profession concerned; and
• public confidence in the regulatory process.”

19. The Panel also had regard to paragraph 47 of the Policy which states that, “Striking off is a sanction of last resort for serious, deliberate or reckless acts involving … dishonesty…”.

20. The Panel noted that the substantive panel had considered that a Striking Off Order would be disproportionate at that time. However, a further 12 months had elapsed, and the Registrant had taken no steps in that time to engage with her Regulator. The Panel had no information before it to indicate that position would change if it were to impose a further Suspension Order.

21. In all the circumstances, the Panel concluded that the only appropriate and proportionate response was to impose a Striking Off Order.

Order

The Registrar is directed to strike the name of Mrs Joanne Leach from the Register upon the expiry of the current Order.

Notes

The order imposed today will apply from 8 September 2018.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mrs Joanne Leach

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
03/08/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Struck off