Julie Ann Taylor

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW17834

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 05/11/2018 End: 17:00 05/11/2018

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

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Suspended

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Allegation

1. On 8 June 2015 at Canterbury Magistrates’ Court, you were convicted of a criminal offence in that:

On 25 May 2015 at Faversham in the County of Kent, you drove a vehicle on a road after consuming so much alcohol that the proportion in your breath exceeded the prescribed limit.

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

 

Finding

Preliminary matters
Service
1. The Panel was provided with a signed certificate as proof that the Notice of Hearing had been sent in a letter, dated 4 September 2018, by first class post, to the address shown for the Registrant on the HCPC register.  The Notice of Hearing was also sent to the Registrant via email on the same date. The Panel was satisfied that Notice had been properly served in accordance with Rule 3 (Proof of Service) and Rule 6 (date, time and venue) of the Conduct & Competence Committee Rules 2003 (as amended).

Proceeding in absence
2. Ms Rangamuwa made an application for the hearing to proceed in the Registrant’s absence, as permitted by Rule 11 of the Conduct & Competence Rules 2003 (as amended). The Panel was advised by the Legal Assessor and followed that advice. The Panel also took into account the guidance as set out in the HCPTS Practice Note “Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant”.

3. The Panel determined that it was reasonable and in the public interest to proceed with the hearing for the following reasons:
(i) The Registrant referred herself to the Declarations Team at the HCPC on 24 April 2017 but since then, she has not fully engaged with the regulatory process. In these circumstances, the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant’s non-attendance was voluntary and therefore a deliberate waiver of her right to attend.

(ii) There has been no application for an adjournment and no indication that the Registrant would attend on any future date. Therefore, re-listing this case would serve no useful purpose.

(iii) The Panel noted that there is a potential disadvantage to the Registrant in not being able to make oral submissions. However, the Registrant was given the opportunity to attend the hearing and was also informed in the Notice of Hearing, dated 4 September 2018, that she could provide a written statement but chose to do neither.

(iv) The Panel was satisfied that given the serious nature of the Allegation there is a strong public interest in ensuring that this Final Hearing commences and proceeds expeditiously.

Background
4. The Registrant was employed by Kent County Council (the Council) in the Older Persons Physical Disability Team as social worker. The Registrant self-referred to the Declarations Team at the HCPC who transferred the case to the Fitness to Practise department on 24 April 2017.

5. On 25 May 2015, the police were alerted by a member of the public that a female, who appeared upset had just bought a packet of paracetamol and had entered a vehicle which was parked at the rear of a petrol station. The police approached the vehicle and found the Registrant in the driver’s seat. The engine was running and officers turned off the ignition and took away the keys. She was visibly upset. The Registrant failed the road side breath test that was administered at 20.07 and was arrested.

6. The Registrant was taken to Canterbury Police Station where she provided two breath tests. The lower of the readings was 103 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath; the legal limit being 35 microgrammes. The Registrant stated in her police interview that she had driven from Stoke on Trent to Faversham for work. She informed the police that she had driven to the sea and had consumed half a bottle of wine. She then decided that she needed to buy paracetamol for her back pain and cigarettes. She drove to the petrol station and it was there that she felt ‘woozy’ and decided to park up until she felt better. 

7. The Registrant was charged and subsequently convicted on 8 June 2015 at Canterbury Magistrates’ Court of driving a motor vehicle whilst over the alcohol consumption limit. The sentence imposed was a Community Order with a requirement to complete Unpaid Work for 60 hours by 7 June 2016. In addition, the Registrant was ordered:
• to pay a victim surcharge of £60; prosecution costs of £85 and a criminal court charge of £150; and
• was disqualified from holding or obtaining a driving licence for 23 months.

8. The Registrant was given the opportunity to reduce her disqualification by 174 days, if by 13 September 2016, she satisfactorily completed a driving course approved by the Secretary of State.

9. The Registrant confirmed in an email, dated 5 June 2017, that as she prohibited her from driving for a period of time, she resigned from her role at the Council.

Decision on facts and grounds
Panel’s approach
10. The Panel was aware that the burden of proving the facts was on the HCPC. The Registrant did not have to prove anything and the Particular of the Allegation could only be found proved, if the Panel was satisfied, on the balance of probabilities.

11. In reaching its decision the Panel took into account the documentary evidence including the Memorandum of Conviction. The Panel also took into account the HCPTS Practice Note entitled ‘Conviction and Caution Allegations’. The Panel was aware that in accordance with Rule 10(1)(d), it could not go behind the conviction and was required to accept the certification from Canterbury Magistrates’ Court as conclusive proof of the conviction itself and the underlying facts.

Decision
Particular 1 – Found proved
‘On 25 May 2017 at Faversham in the County of Kent, you drove a vehicle on a road after consuming so much alcohol that the proportion in your breath exceeded the prescribed limit.’
12. The Panel was provided with a Memorandum of Conviction in the name of the Registrant. The Panel accepted the Memorandum of Conviction, which was printed on 29 January 2018, as conclusive evidence that on 8 June 2015 the Registrant pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of excess alcohol and was therefore convicted of the offence.

13. The Panel was satisfied that the facts had been proved and the statutory ground of conviction had been established.

Impairment
Panel’s approach
14. In considering whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired, the Panel took into account the submissions of Ms Rangamuwa, on behalf of the HCPC. The Panel also took into account the HCPTS Practice Note: ‘Finding that Fitness to Practise is Impaired’ and the HCPTS Practice Note: ‘Conviction and Caution Allegations’. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

15. In determining current impairment, the Panel had regard to the following aspects of the public interest:
• The ‘personal’ component: the current behaviour of the individual registrant; and
• The ‘public’ component: the need to protect service users, declare and uphold proper standards of behaviour and maintain public confidence in the profession.

Panel’s decision
16. The Panel considered the Registrant’s current fitness to practise firstly from the personal perspective and then from the wider public perspective.

17. The Panel considered the HCPC Standards of Conduct and Ethics [2012 Edition] and was satisfied that the Registrant’s conduct and behaviour represented a significant departure from the following standard:
3 - ‘You must keep high standards of personal conduct, as well as professional conduct. You should be aware that poor conduct outside of your professional life may still affect someone’s confidence in you and your profession.’

18. The Registrant’s conviction, for driving with excess alcohol, demonstrated a course of conduct, which represented a significant breach of the high standards of personal conduct and behaviour expected of a registered practitioner. The Panel noted that the level of alcohol in the Registrant’s breath was almost three times the legal limit and had the potential to cause serious harm to herself and other road users.

19. The Panel recognised that the Registrant pleaded guilty at an early stage of the criminal proceedings but as there was only limited information available the Panel was unable to assess whether this demonstrated a degree of insight or was an inevitable consequence due to the strength of the evidence. As the Registrant had demonstrated only limited engagement with these proceedings and had chosen not to attend the hearing the Panel was unable to assess the scope and level of the Registrant’s insight. There was no evidence before the Panel, that the Registrant fully appreciated the consequences of her actions or that she had properly reflected on the impact of her behaviour on her professional standing as a social worker. There was also no information before the Panel to confirm that the Registrant had completed the driving course approved by the Secretary of State or completed without incident the Community Order specifically the unpaid work requirement. In the absence of meaningful reflection and a commitment to remediation the Panel concluded that there was a risk of repetition.

20. The Panel concluded that for these reasons the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired based on the personal component.

21. In considering the public component the Panel had regard to the important public policy issues which include the need to protect the public, maintain confidence in the profession and declare and uphold proper standards of conduct and behaviour.

22. The Panel noted that social workers occupy a position of trust and the role necessarily involves demonstrating high standards of personal conduct at all times. The Registrant’s conduct fell far below the standard expected of a registered practitioner. The Panel concluded that it is unacceptable for a social worker to drive a motor vehicle whilst under the influence of excess alcohol. The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s conduct and behaviour risked causing harm to other road users and her criminal conviction breached a fundamental tenet of the profession and brought the profession into disrepute. The Panel took the view that, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, there is an on-going risk that these aspects of the Registrant’s behaviour would be repeated.

23. The Panel concluded that a reasonable and well-informed member of the public would be extremely concerned by the Registrant’s criminal conviction and her disregard on 25 May 2015, for the safety and well-being of others. The public have a legitimate expectation that all HCPC registered professionals abide by the law and avoid exposing others to the risk of harm at all times. As a consequence, the Panel was satisfied that public confidence in the profession and in the HCPC as a regulator would be undermined if a finding of fitness to practise was not made, given the seriousness of the Registrant’s conviction.

24. The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s current fitness to practise is impaired on the basis of both the personal component and the wider public interest and therefore the HCPC’s case is well-founded.

Sanction
Panel’s approach
25. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel was mindful that the purpose of any sanction is not to punish the Registrant, but to protect the public and the wider public interest. The public interest includes maintaining public confidence in the profession and the HCPC as its regulator and by upholding proper standards of conduct and behaviour. The Panel applied the principle of proportionality by weighing the Registrant’s interests with the public interest and by considering each available sanction in ascending order of severity.

26. The Panel had regard to the Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP) and took into account the submissions made by Ms Rangamuwa on behalf of the HCPC.

Panel’s decision
27. The Panel considered the aggravating and mitigating factors in determining what sanction, if any, to impose.

28. The Panel identified the following mitigating factors:
• The Registrant referred herself to the HCPC;
• The Registrant pleaded guilty, during the criminal proceedings, to driving under the influence of excess alcohol.

29. The aggravating factors identified by the Panel were as follows:
• The Registrant’s alcohol reading was significantly higher than the prescribed legal limit;
• The Registrant’s actions demonstrated a reckless disregard for the safety and well-being for herself and others.
• The Registrant has not demonstrated any remorse, insight or remediation.

30. The Panel first considered taking no action. The Panel concluded that in view of the nature and seriousness of the Registrant’s criminal conviction and the underlying behaviour and in the absence of exceptional circumstances, to take no action on her registration would be inappropriate. Furthermore, it would be insufficient to protect the public, maintain public confidence and uphold the reputation of the profession.

31. The Panel then considered a Caution Order.  The Panel noted paragraph 28 of the ISP which states:
“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.’

32. Although the Panel acknowledged that the Registrant’s conduct may have been isolated and out of character, it concluded that her actions could not be described as minor in nature. Furthermore, as a consequence of the Registrant’s limited engagement, there was no evidence before the Panel that she fully appreciates the gravity of her criminal conviction and the impact on her standing as a social worker, the wider profession and the public. In addition, there was no explanation as to how the Registrant would behave differently in the future and no assurance that her conduct would not be repeated. In the absence of sufficiently developed insight and any evidence that the Registrant had taken appropriate steps towards remediation, the Panel concluded that there is a real risk of repetition. In these circumstances, the Panel concluded that a Caution Order would be inappropriate and insufficient to meet the public interest.

33. The Panel went on to consider a Conditions of Practice Order. The Panel noted that the ISP states at paragraph 33:
‘Conditions will rarely be effective unless the registrant is genuinely committed to resolving the issues they seek to address and can be trusted to make a determined effort to do so. Therefore, conditions of practice are unlikely to be suitable in cases:
• where the registrant has failed to engage with the fitness to practise process, lacks insight…;

34. The Panel acknowledged that a conviction for a serious criminal offence will not unusually be amenable to a Conditions of Practice Order, as the basis for this type of conduct, is an attitudinal failing. The Panel concluded that, in the circumstances of this case, given the nature of the Registrant’s criminal conduct, there are no conditions that could be formulated that would adequately address the serious nature of the Registrant’s behaviour in choosing to drive whilst under the influence of excess alcohol. In any event the Panel concluded that imposing a Conditions of Practice Order, in these circumstances, would seriously undermine public confidence in the profession, the HCPC as a regulator and the need to uphold high standards of conduct and behaviour.

35. The Panel next considered a Suspension Order. The Panel noted paragraph 41 of the Indicative Sanction Policy which states:
‘If the evidence suggests that the registrant will be unable to resolve or remedy his or her failings then striking off may be the more appropriate option. However, where there are no psychological or other difficulties preventing the registrant from understanding and seeking to remedy the failings then suspension may be appropriate.’ 

36. The Panel determined that the conduct and behaviour underlying the Registrant’s conviction is capable of being remedied provided that she is willing to engage in meaningful reflection and take steps to demonstrate that such behaviour is firmly in the past and will not be repeated in future. The Panel took the view that a Suspension Order would re-affirm to the Registrant, the profession and the public the standards expected of a registered social worker. A Suspension Order would also prevent the Registrant from practising as a social worker during the suspension period, which would therefore provide protection to the public. Although the Registrant appeared to be distressed on 25 May 2015, there was no information before the Panel to indicate that there are any ‘psychological or other difficulties’ which would prevent her from understanding and seeking to remedy the underlying behaviour which led to her criminal conviction.

37. In these circumstances, the Panel determined that a 6 month Suspension Order would be sufficient to maintain public trust in the profession and the regulatory process and would have a deterrent effect on other registrants. In determining the length of the Order the Panel was satisfied that this period would be sufficient to mark the seriousness of the Registrant’s criminal conviction and provide her with the opportunity to demonstrate an appropriate level of insight into her conduct and behaviour. The Panel concluded that a Striking Off Order, would be punitive and disproportionate.

38. The Suspension Order will be reviewed shortly before expiry. Although this Panel cannot bind a future reviewing panel, that panel is likely to be assisted by the following:
(i) Attendance of the Registrant in person;
(ii) Confirmation of the Registrant’s current circumstances;
(iii) Written and/or oral evidence of insight and remediation;
(iv) Character references.

Order

That the Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Miss Julie Ann Taylor for a period of 6 months from the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

This order will be reviewed again before its expiry on 3 June 2019.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Julie Ann Taylor

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
05/11/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended