Mrs Michelle Dawn Emmerson

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW49813

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 09:00 06/08/2018 End: 16:00 06/08/2018

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

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Caution

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Allegation

 

Whilst registered as Social Worker:

 

1. On 20 March 2017 at Southern Derbyshire Magistrates’ Court you were convicted of driving a motor vehicle after consuming so much alcohol that the proportion of it in your breath, namely 72 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath, exceeded the prescribed limit;

 

2. By reason of your conviction your fitness to practise is impaired.

 

Finding

Background

1. The Registrant is a registered social worker and, at the time of the incident referred to in the Allegation, was a social worker employed by Staffordshire County Council in the Youth Offending Team.

2. The Registrant was convicted in the Southern Derbyshire Magistrates Court on 20 March 2017 for driving a vehicle on 3 March 2017 after consuming so much alcohol that she was over the prescribed limit, as set out in the Allegation. The Registrant was fined £507, ordered to pay a surcharge to fund victim services of £50 and costs of £85. She was also disqualified from driving for a period of 19 months.

3. The Registrant notified her employer of her arrest on 4 March 2017 and notified the HCPC of her conviction on 23 March 2017.

Decision on Facts

4. The Panel took into account the submissions of Ms Manning-Rees on behalf of the HCPC. The Panel was aware that the burden of proof in respect of the fact is on the HCPC to the civil standard, namely the balance of probabilities.

5. The Registrant formally admitted the factual particular.

6. The Panel took into account the HCPTS Practice Note entitled “Conviction and Caution Allegations”, and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

7. The Panel took into account Rule 10(1)(d) of the Health and Care Professions Council (Conduct and Competence Committee) (Procedure) Rules 2003 which provides that where a Registrant has been convicted of a criminal offence, a certified copy of the certificate of conviction shall be admissible as proof of that conviction and of the findings of fact upon which it was based.

8. Taking into account the signed certificate of conviction before the Panel, as well as the Registrant’s admission, the Panel was satisfied that the factual particular was proved. 

Decision on Grounds and Impairment

9. Having found the factual particular proved, which, as a conviction, forms the statutory ground upon which a finding of impairment may be based, the Panel then went on to consider whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired.

10. The Panel heard the Registrant’s oral evidence given over the telephone as well as considering all of the documentary evidence before it, including the Registrant’s “Panel Statement”, self-referral document, three character references, as well as the reference from the Registrant’s current line manager.

11. The Panel took into account the submissions of Ms Manning-Rees that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired. The Registrant submitted that her fitness to practise is not impaired.

12. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor who referred to CHRE v (1) NMC (2) Grant [2011] EWHC 927. The Panel took into account the HCPTS Practice Note entitled “Finding that Fitness to Practise is ‘Impaired’”. The Panel was aware that impairment is a matter for its own independent judgment and that public protection and the wider public interest should be considered.

13. Having heard the Registrant give evidence, the Panel was of the view that she was candid, measured and credible. Her evidence was tested thoroughly by cross-examination, and she answered fairly difficult and challenging questions with, in the Panel’s view, realism and maturity.

14. The Panel was of the view the Registrant did not seek to minimise what had happened, nor to pass blame to others. She accepted that regardless of the short distance driven before being stopped by the police, the very act of driving her car was inexcusable. The Panel read the Registrant’s written statements and reflection, and on the basis of all of the information, the Panel was of the view that the Registrant has sufficient insight into why she made an error of judgment in deciding to drive on the night in question, as well as insight into the impact on the wider reputation and confidence in the profession. She has expressed deep and genuine regret and remorse. The Panel also took into account that the Registrant informed her employer about her arrest the day after it happened, treating it as a matter of urgency by calling in on a Saturday, and not waiting until Monday morning. 

15.  In its deliberations, the Panel considered the questions formulated by Dame Janet Smith in the Fifth Shipman Report, as set out in the case of Grant:

Has the practitioner

i. Acted in the past and/or is liable in the future to act so as to put a service user or users at unwarranted risk of harm;

ii. And/or in the past brought and/or is liable in the future to bring the profession into disrepute;

iii. And/or in the past breached and/or is liable in the future to breach one of the fundamental tenet of the profession;

iv. …


16. The Panel considered the Registrant’s deep and meaningful reflection both on paper and orally. The Panel also took into account that the Registrant has undertaken the drink driving course and demonstrated in evidence what she had learnt from it. The Registrant admitted that prior to attending this course she had little knowledge or understanding about some of the material taught, and she was very willing to express this realisation. The Panel also accepted the Registrant’s evidence that she had undergone counselling which had helped her come to terms with what had happened and to reflect on the implications. The Panel took into account that the Registrant has remained with the same employer, albeit moving to a non-frontline role. The employer has indicated that a frontline position may be offered to her in due course, a role to which the Registrant may eventually like to return. In answer to questions, the Registrant identified the measures she would take in the future to reduce work related stress.

17. In considering the Grant criteria, the Panel decided, from the material before it, that the Registrant had not in the past acted so as to put service users at unwarranted risk of harm, nor was there any evidence to suggest that she was liable to do so in the future.

18.  In light of the demonstration of insight and remediation, as well as the regret and remorse, the Panel is of the view that the risk of repetition is low. Consequently, the Panel is satisfied that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is not impaired in terms of the personal component.

19. Considering the other Grant criteria, the Panel determined that the Registrant’s actions brought the profession into disrepute. As the Panel already decided, the risk of repetition was low, and therefore the Registrant is not liable to bring the profession into disrepute again in the future.

20. Nevertheless, the role of a Social Worker, incorporates a responsibility in maintaining high professional and personal standards which are necessary for public confidence in the professional exercising of that role. The Registrant’s behaviour, which led to the conviction, created a serious risk to other road users. The receipt of a conviction for drink driving undermines confidence in her as a professional, and, more specifically, in her professional judgment as someone who is required to reach high standards in the assessment of people and situations as part of her work. The conviction also undermines confidence in the wider profession.

21. For the reasons set out above, in the Panel’s view, it would also undermine confidence in the regulator if a finding of impairment was not made. The need to uphold proper professional standards and maintain public confidence in the profession and in the regulator, necessitates that a finding of impairment is made in the particular circumstances of this case.

22. The Panel therefore found the Registrant’s current fitness to practise to be impaired on the basis of the public component.


Decision on Sanction

23. The Panel heard submissions from Ms Manning-Rees and the Registrant, took into account all of the oral and documentary evidence before it, read the HCPTS’s Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP), and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel was aware that the aim of sanction is not to be punitive. Rather, the aim is to protect the public interest. Sanction is a matter for the independent judgment of the Panel.

24. The Panel identified the following mitigating factors:

i. isolated incident;
ii. sufficient insight shown by the Registrant;
iii. no harm caused to the public;
iv. previous unblemished career;
v. guilty plea at the first opportunity;
vi. work-related stress at the time of the incident;
vii. character references and a reference attesting to her skills as a social worker.

25. The Panel identified the following aggravating factors:

i. high level of alcohol.

26. In considering which sanction, if any, to impose, the Panel took into account the principle of proportionality and discussed sanctions in ascending order. Mediation was recognised as not being appropriate in respect of a criminal conviction. The Panel discounted taking no further action on the basis that a conviction for drink driving is a matter which requires a sanction to send a clear message that the behaviour in question is unacceptable.

27. The Panel took into account its findings at the impairment stage that the Registrant had not placed service users at risk by her actions, nor was she liable to do so in the future. Her fitness to practise has been found impaired on the wider public interest ground, which includes upholding proper standards of behaviour and maintaining public confidence in the profession. The sanction imposed needs to be sufficient and proportionate to mark that her actions brought the profession into disrepute.

28. The Panel took into account paragraph 28 of the ISP which states as follows:
“A caution order is an appropriate sanction for cases, where the lapse is isolated, limited or relatively minor in nature, there is a low risk of recurrence, the registrant has shown insight and taken appropriate remedial action. A caution order should also be considered in cases where the nature of the allegation means that meaningful practice restrictions cannot be imposed but where the registrant has shown insight, the conduct concerned is out of character, the risk of repetition is low and thus suspension from practice would be disproportionate. A caution order is unlikely to be appropriate in cases where the registrant lacks insight.”

29. The Panel considered the insight, remorse and the appropriate remediation shown by the Registrant in these proceedings, and the learning she has demonstrated through counselling and the drink driving course. The Panel also took into account that this was an isolated incident, and the risk of repetition of her actions is low. 
      
30. Taking account of the ISP, the Panel was of the view that a Caution Order was sufficient and proportionate to maintain public confidence in the profession and to uphold proper standards of conduct and behaviour. The Panel decided that a Caution Order for 2 years was proportionate to mark the unacceptable nature of the behaviour while reflecting the mitigating circumstances.

31. The Panel did consider whether any other sanction was appropriate in this case. It determined that a Conditions of Practice Order was not appropriate because there are no issues of concern in the Registrant’s practice. A Suspension Order would be disproportionate and punitive given the factors identified above.
 
32. The Panel therefore decided to impose a Caution Order for a period of 2 years.

Order

That the Registrar is directed to annotate the register entry of Mrs Michelle Dawn Emmerson with a caution which is to remain on the register for a period of 2 years from the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

No notes available

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mrs Michelle Dawn Emmerson

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
06/08/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Caution