Mrs Jennifer Kathryn Lewis

: Social worker

: SW57852

Interim Order: Imposed on 26 Jun 2017

: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 26/06/2017 End: 17:00 26/06/2017

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

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Suspended

Allegation

Whilst registered a Social Worker,

1. You were convicted on 24 September 2015 at Warwickshire Magistrates’ Court as you:

a. On 25 August 2015 assaulted PC 137 in the execution of their duty;

b. On 24 August 2015, as without lawful excuse, damaged a grey car to the value of £30 belonging to Person A intending to destroy or damage such property or being reckless as to whether such property would be destroyed or damaged;

c. On 24 August 2015, assaulted Person B by beating him.

2. 
a. You were convicted on 12 October 2015 at Warwickshire Magistrates’ Court as you on 26 September 2015 drove a motor vehicle after consuming so much alcohol that the proportion of it in your breath, namely 79 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millitres of breath, exceeded the prescribed limit;

b. By virtue of that conviction, you were in breach of the community order made by Warwickshire Magistrates’ Court on 24 September 2015 for the offences of criminal damage, assault, battery, by reason of your committing a further offence.

3. You were convicted on 20 October 2015 at Warwickshire Magistrates’ Court, as you:

a. On 19 October 2015, assaulted PC 2455 in the execution of her duty;

b. On 19 October 2015, without lawful excuse, damaged a police pocket notebook to the value unknown belonging to PC 2455 intending to destroy or damage such property or being reckless as to whether such property would be destroyed or damaged.

4. You were convicted on 02 November 2015 at Warwickshire Magistrates’ Court, as you:

a. On 31 October 2015 used threatening or abusive words or behaviour or disorderly behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress;

b. On 31 October 2015, drove a motor vehicle while disqualified from holding or obtaining a driving licence;

c. On 31 October 2015, used a motor vehicle, or a road, or other public place, when there was not in force in relation to that use such a policy of insurance or such a security in respect of third party risks as complied with the requirements of Part VI of the Road Traffic Act 1988.

d. On 01 November 2015, when suspected of having driven a vehicle and having been required to provide a specimen or specimens of breath for analysis by means of a type approved by the Secretary of State pursuant to section 7 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 in the course of an investigation into whether you have committed an offence under section 3A, 4, 5 or 5A thereof, failed without reasonable excuse to do so;

e. On 31 October 2015, without lawful excuse, damaged a carved wooden horse of unknown value, belonging to Person C, intending to destroy or damage such property or being reckless as to whether such a property would be destroyed or damaged.

5. By reason of your convictions as set out at paragraphs 1-4 your fitness to practise as a Social Worker is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary matters

Notice of Hearing

1. The Registrant faces an Allegation that her fitness to practise as a Social Worker is impaired by reason of various criminal convictions. In accordance with Article 22(1)(a)(iii) of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001 (the 2001 Order), this is one of a number of grounds upon which impaired fitness to practise can be based. In such cases, the full range of sanctions – including strike-off – is available to a panel if the Allegation is well founded (Article 29(5) of the 2001 Order).

2. A Notice of Hearing was sent to the Registrant on 2 December 2016 informing her of this hearing. The Notice correctly gives details of the hearing, but it is potentially misleading in that it does not make reference to the possibility of a strike-off being imposed. It lists all other possible sanctions, ending with suspension. Conversely, a letter sent to the Registrant dated 29 July 2016 informing her that the Investigating Committee had referred her case to the Conduct and Competence Committee did correctly outline all the available powers at the sanction stage, should such stage be reached.

3. Mr Mullally was invited to comment on the omission within the Notice of Hearing. He confirmed that he did not take issue with the error and that both he and the Registrant were aware that the full range of sanctions, including the possibility of strike-off, was available to the Panel should impaired fitness to practise be established. The Panel considered that it was regrettable that an error of this nature had been made, but in view of Mr Mullally’s observations, the Panel did not consider that there would be any prejudice to the Registrant if the case were to proceed.

Application for hearing to be held in private

4. Mr Mullally made an application on behalf of the Registrant for all or part of the proceedings to be held in private. He said that the Registrant would prefer the entirety of the case to be held in private, but she recognised that there was a legitimate public interest in the outcome and that the convictions were already in the public domain by reason of the criminal proceedings. He invited the Panel to sit in private when it heard evidence relating to aspects of the Registrant’s health and family life.

5. On behalf of the HCPC, Ms Sharpe opposed the application for the entirety of the case to be heard in private. She acknowledged that it would be appropriate to sit in private when considering issues relating to the Registrant’s health and private life.

6. The Legal Assessor advised the Panel of the provisions of rule 10(1)(a) of the HCPC Conduct and Competence Committee (Procedure) Rules 2003 (the 2003 Rules), which states that:

“…the proceedings shall be held in public unless the Committee is satisfied that, in the interests of justice or for the protection of the private life of the registrant, the complainant, any person giving evidence or of any patient or client, the public should be excluded from all or part of the hearing.”

7. The Panel decided to hold the proceedings in public except when issues relating to the Registrant’s health and family life were being discussed. The Panel considered that this struck a proportionate balance between the presumption of open justice on the one hand, and the Registrant’s right to privacy on the other.

Amendment of the Allegation

8. After the Allegation had been formally read by the Hearings Officer, the Panel of its own motion raised an issue regarding the wording of particular 2b. This appeared to suggest that the breach of a community order was itself a criminal offence resulting in a conviction.

9. Having heard representations from the parties and advice from the Legal Assessor, the Panel proposed an amendment to the wording of particular 2 in the following terms:

“2a. You were convicted on 12 October 2015 at Warwickshire Magistrates’ Court as you on 26 September 2015 drove a motor vehicle after consuming so much alcohol that the proportion of it in your breath, namely 79 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath, exceeded the prescribed limit.

2b. By virtue of that conviction, you were in breach of the community order made by Warwickshire Magistrates’ Court on 24 September 2015 for the offences of criminal damage, assault, battery, by reason of your committing a further offence.”

10. The parties agreed to the proposed amendment.

11. The Registrant indicated that she admitted the factual allegations set out in particulars 1-4. She denied that her fitness to practise was currently impaired.

Background

12. The Registrant qualified as a Social Worker in 2008. She undertook the final placement of her Diploma in Social Work within the Leamington Children and Families Team. Upon qualification, she was recruited to a vacant position in the team in July 2008. She applied successfully for a post in the Warwickshire Kinship Team in 2013.

13. The Registrant was arrested at around 11pm on 24 August 2015 following an incident at a public house. She was asked to leave because of her drunken state and, in the car park, she pulled the number plate off a parked car. She then walked up to one of the members of the public who had asked her to leave the pub, grabbed him by the shirt and threw punches at him. On arrival at the police station, she kicked one of the officers on the leg.

14. The Registrant was bailed from the police station to attend Warwickshire Magistrates’ Court on 24 September 2015. She pleaded guilty to the three charges which are set out in particular 1. The court imposed a 12-month community order with 28 days of programmes and activities. The Registrant was fined £40 and there were also some ancillary orders made.

15. At around 2.15am on 26 September 2015, the Registrant was arrested in Leamington Spa on suspicion of driving whilst unfit. She was driving home from a nightclub. At the police station, she provided two specimens of breath and the lower reading was 79 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath. The arresting officers describe her as being clearly under the influence of intoxicating liquor.

16. The Registrant appeared at Warwickshire Magistrates’ Court on 12 October 2015. She pleaded guilty to the offence of driving with excess alcohol and admitted that she was in breach of the community order made two days previously. In relation to the excess alcohol offence, she was fined and disqualified from driving for a period of 19 months. The Court directed that the community order should continue. This is the subject matter of particular 2.

17. During the evening of 19 October 2015, a female police officer attended the Registrant’s home address following the report from her husband that she had left the house after drinking alcohol and he was concerned for her welfare. The Registrant returned home while the officer was at her address. The officer describes the Registrant’s behaviour as erratic and at one point, the Registrant ran off but returned shortly afterwards. The Registrant asked the officer if she could write her brother’s details in the officer’s pocket notebook, and the officer agreed to this in order to help calm down Registrant. Once in possession of the notebook and a pen, the Registrant began scribbling in the notebook over a previous entry. She then ripped a page from the notebook. As the officer was retrieving the discarded page, the Registrant attempted to kick her and then grabbed her earpiece. A violent struggle ensued, during which the Registrant punched the officer in the face, until the officer was able to restrain the Registrant.

18. In her witness statement, the officer explained that this was the worst attack she had sustained in more than six years as a police officer. She described the Registrant’s behaviour as 'animalistic and totally unprovoked'.

19. The Registrant was kept in custody overnight and appeared at Warwickshire Magistrates’ Court the following morning. She pleaded guilty to the offences of assaulting the police officer and damaging her notebook, as set out in particular 3. She was made the subject of a six-month community order with an alcohol treatment requirement. There were also ancillary orders.

20. The Panel noted that, amongst the documents submitted by the Registrant for this hearing, there was an email from the police officer who was the victim of these offences. It is dated 4 December 2016 and refers to a letter of apology which the Registrant had sent to the officer a few days previously. The officer indicated that the Registrant’s apology was fully accepted. She commented, “in the line of duty we expect to be ill-treated at times and we often are but the incident with you is one that affected me above others, that said, in almost 8 years as a police officer, I have never received a letter of apology from someone taking ownership of their actions and facing up to the consequences; it takes a brave person to do that.”

21. During the evening of 31 October 2015, the Registrant entered a neighbour’s garden and began throwing items around. She was shouting abuse at her neighbour. One of the items was a carved wooden horse which had been made by the Registrant’s husband as a birthday present for the neighbour. This item was damaged as result of the Registrant’s action. Later in the evening, the Registrant was seen to drive away from her address.

22. Police officers were alerted to the fact that the Registrant, who was now a disqualified driver, may be on the road having consumed alcohol. She was arrested at her home address in the early hours of the following morning. She appeared to be under the influence of alcohol and was required to provide a specimen of breath for analysis. She refused to do so.

23. The Registrant was kept in custody and appeared at Warwickshire Magistrates’ Court on 2 November 2015. She pleaded guilty to the offences set out in particular 4. In relation to the offences of driving while disqualified and failing to provide a specimen of breath for analysis, she was sentenced to 12 weeks’ imprisonment suspended for 12 months. She was disqualified from driving for a period of three years. No separate penalty was imposed in relation to the other offences.

24. The Registrant has now completed the community order and the operative period of the suspended sentence has elapsed, although the Registrant remains subject to the driving disqualification. The Panel was provided with a report dated 8 February 2017 from the Registrant’s Probation Officer. Her supervision expired on 19 October 2016.

Evidence and submissions

25. Ms Sharpe opened the HCPC case by taking the Panel to the four court extracts which confirmed the convictions. She also indicated the underlying evidence which explained the basis of the convictions.

26. Mr Mullally referred the Panel to the various medical reports, testimonials and character references which had been provided on behalf of the Registrant. He also drew the Panel’s attention to the two witness statements made by the Registrant, dated 25 June 2016 and 9 February 2017.

27. The Panel heard evidence from one of the Registrant’s character witnesses, Witness 1. He had been a senior manager in the Leamington Children and Families Team and worked closely with the Registrant between January 2008 and December 2012. Since then, he had maintained regular email contact with the Registrant and had seen her on a number of occasions. He had submitted a character reference for her court appearance on 24 September 2015, and had written a reference for the HCPC proceedings dated 21 June 2016 which he updated on 4 February 2017.

28. Witness 1 was a credible witness who had good, if somewhat historic, knowledge of the Registrant’s professional capabilities. He spoke very highly of her professional skills and personal qualities. He was fully aware of the convictions and acknowledged that these had come at a point in the Registrant’s life when she was “reaching rock-bottom”. She had succeeded in making significant changes to her lifestyle. Witness 1 supported the Registrant’s desire to return to social work practice.

29. The Panel also heard evidence from the Registrant herself. The Panel was impressed with the steps she has taken to rebuild her life in the period since the criminal convictions. She expressed genuine remorse and contrition for her behaviour.

30. During the evidence, information was volunteered by Witness 1 and by the Registrant that she had a previous caution recorded against her from 2007. This related to offences of being drunk and disorderly and assaulting a police officer.

31. At the conclusion of the evidence, the Panel invited closing submissions from Ms Sharpe and from Mr Mullally.

32. Ms Sharpe submitted that the convictions were proved by way of the court extracts, and that the statutory ground of conviction was established. She submitted that the Registrant’s fitness to practise was currently impaired by reason of her convictions.

33. Mr Mullally accepted that the convictions represented serious and repeated criminal conduct, but he submitted that this had to be seen in context. There were particular factors which led to the offending and these factors have now been addressed. He invited the Panel to find that the Registrant’s fitness to practise may well have been impaired at the time of the offences, but it is no longer impaired in light of the steps taken by the Registrant over the last 15 months.

Decision on Facts and Grounds

34. In making its decision on facts and grounds, the Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and had regard to the HCPC Practice Note on Conviction and Caution Allegations.

35. The Panel took account of the Registrant’s admissions to particulars 1-4. These admissions were entirely consistent with the evidence of the court extracts. The Panel found particulars 1-4 proved.

36. The Panel noted that this was a conviction case, in accordance with Article 22(1)(a)(iii) of the 2001 Order, and was satisfied that the statutory ground of conviction had been made out.

Decision on Impairment

37. The Panel took careful note of the submissions of Ms Sharpe for the HCPC and Mr Mullally for the Registrant. It accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice and paid regard to the HCPC’s Practice Note on Finding that Fitness to Practise is Impaired. The Panel reminded itself that impairment is a forward looking concept and is based on the principles of protecting the public and upholding the wider public interest, as opposed to punishing practitioners for past wrong doings. There is no burden or standard of proof; impairment is a matter for the professional judgement of the Panel.

38. The Panel started its consideration of impairment by examining the nature of the Registrant’s criminal conduct. The Panel identified a number of factors which indicated that the conduct was of a serious nature: there were 11 offences, committed within a period of around two months; the offences were generally of an anti-social nature, committed in public, and some involved the use of violence towards police officers and a member of the public carrying out his duties; certain offences were committed in breach of court orders. The Panel also noted that, in the opinion of the Magistrates on 2 November 2015, the offending behaviour reached the threshold for a custodial sentence. In the Panel’s view, it was significant that the last conviction was as relatively recent as 15 months ago.

39. Against that, though, the Panel considered that there were a number of mitigating factors. The Registrant pleaded guilty to all of the offences at the earliest opportunity. Although it could not be said that the convictions were isolated matters, they took place within a confined period of time when the Registrant was particularly affected by many difficult personal problems. The Panel disregarded the 2007 caution, which was an isolated matter separate from the 2015 pattern of offending even if it was alcohol-related.

40. In conclusion, the Panel determined that these were particularly serious criminal convictions but they were not so serious as to be incapable of remediation. However, remediation would require cogent and enduring evidence from the Registrant to demonstrate that there was no longer a risk of repetition and to restore public confidence in her and in the profession, which would have inevitably been damaged by the extent and gravity of the offending.

41. In assessing the nature and extent of the Registrant’s remediation, the Panel took into account the observations of Silber J. in Cohen v GMC [2008] EWHC 581 Admin and Cox J. in CHRE v NMC & Grant [2011] EWHC 927 Admin. In Cohen, at paragraph 65, Silber J. stated that: “It must be highly relevant in determining if a [doctor's] fitness to practise is impaired that first his or her conduct which led to the charge is easily remediable, second that it has been remedied and third that it is highly unlikely to be repeated.” In Grant, at paragraph 74, Cox J. stated that: “In determining whether a practitioner's fitness to practise is impaired by reason of misconduct, the relevant panel should generally consider not only whether the practitioner continues to present a risk to members of the public in his or her current role, but also whether the need to uphold proper professional standards and public confidence in the profession would be undermined if a finding of impairment were not made in the particular circumstances.”

42. The Panel considered how easy it would be for the Registrant to remediate her behaviour as demonstrated by the convictions. In addition to the serious nature of the criminal conduct, as set out in paragraph 44 above, the Panel identified three factors which suggested that remediation would not be easy:

i) the case concerns the Registrant’s behaviour, and not issues of professional or clinical competence, which would be more susceptible to retraining and monitoring so as to avoid repetition. Thus, this category of case is generally more difficult to remediate;

ii) the Registrant’s failure to grasp the need to take responsibility for her behaviour and to realise the effect on her and her profession at an earlier time, and her total lack of professional judgement that prevailed during that period of time.

43. However, balanced against these factors, the Panel has also recognised that the Registrant has taken significant steps to address the concerns raised her convictions, as follows:


i) she has successfully secured part-time, but busy, employment in a health-related area, where she uses organisational and communication skills to fulfill her role;

ii) she has successfully completed her criminal court sentences.

44. The Panel went on to consider, in the light of these various factors, the extent to which there remains a risk of repetition. The Panel acknowledges that the Registrant has taken very positive action to address her problems. However, given the difficulties she has had in the past with maintaining abstinence and given the serious nature of the relatively recent criminal conduct, the Panel has concluded that she has not yet reached the stage where it could properly be said that the risk of repetition is low. The Panel recognises that the Registrant is likely to be disappointed by this conclusion, and it would seek to reassure her that continuing along this path is likely to be of long-term benefit to her both personally and professionally.

45. It follows that the Panel has determined, on the basis of what is described as the ‘personal component’ in the HCPC Practice Note, that the Registrant’s fitness to practice is currently impaired.

46. The Panel next considered whether a finding of current impairment was necessary based on the ‘public component’. The Panel took into consideration that the Registrant’s convictions occurred at a time when she was absent from work for a prolonged period of time. There is no suggestion that her actions have put service users at risk of harm. However, the Panel has concluded that the Registrant’s convictions were of such seriousness as to bring the reputation of the profession of social work into disrepute. The Registrant readily acknowledged that principle in her oral evidence before the Panel.

47. The Panel concluded that there remains a risk that the profession’s reputation could still be at risk of being brought into disrepute in the future because of the residual risk of repetition identified above. Furthermore, the nature and seriousness of the criminal conduct is such that a finding of no impairment at this early stage would undermine the need to uphold proper professional standards and public confidence. The Panel is not completely satisfied that the there is no risk of repetition in the future. In the Panel’s opinion, a member of the public fully apprised of the facts and background of the case would be of the view that the period of time that has elapsed since the convictions is not sufficient to enable the Registrant to demonstrate that she has taken all measures necessary so as to restore public confidence in her and in the profession.

48. For these reasons, the Panel has determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is also impaired on the basis of the public component.

Decision on Sanction

49. The Registrant’s case could not be completed within the originally allocated time period. After the Panel had made its decision on Impairment, the case was adjourned from 10 March 2017 until 26 June 2017. At the resuming hearing the Panel heard further oral evidence from the Registrant, and heard the submissions of both Ms Turner and Mr Mullally. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and took into account the HCPC’s Indicative Sanctions Policy.

50. The Panel was aware that sanction is a matter for the Panel’s own independent judgment, there being no burden or standard of proof. Further, the purpose of sanction is not to punish, although a sanction may have a punitive effect. In making its decision, the Panel acknowledged that the primary function of any sanction is to address public safety concerns. This is not a case where the Registrant has ever presented a risk to service users; the criminal offences were not committed in the context of her employment, and in fact, she was not working at the time. The Panel has kept the need to uphold the public interest at the forefront of its thinking. In this context, the public interest includes the deterrent effect to other registrants, the reputation of the profession, and public confidence in the regulatory process. The Panel also recognised that it can be in the public interest to enable a competent practitioner to continue in practice.

51. In coming to its decision on sanction the Panel took into account the fact that some three and a half months have elapsed since the last hearing.

52. She has continued to work in her part-time role as a receptionist and has taken on additional responsibilities in that role since the last hearing. The Panel was pleased to hear that the Registrant has maintained the positive progress which was apparent at the last hearing. The Registrant’s conduct which has been under scrutiny is now more historic and has not been repeated.

53. The Panel considered the mitigating and aggravating factors in this case which it has already addressed in its previous determination on impairment.

54. The Panel first considered taking No Further Action and decided that this would not be appropriate. The Panel also concluded that a Caution Order would not be appropriate. In deciding to exclude both these options, the Panel concluded that the serious and repeated nature of the convictions rendered these two sanctions inadequate. Further, the Registrant is still at a relatively early stage in demonstrating her recovery. In the Panel’s view, neither sanction would maintain public confidence in the profession or mark the gravity of the offending.

55. The Panel next considered a Conditions of Practice Order and decided that while it might be possible to formulate conditions to prevent the use of alcohol and to address the management of stress, in practical terms such conditions would not be workable in light of the Registrant’s intention not to resume work as a Social Worker until September 2019 for domestic reasons. Further, in the Panel’s view, in any event, conditions of practice as a sanction would not be sufficient at this stage to mark the gravity of the offending and would not be sufficient to maintain public confidence in the profession.

56. The Panel next considered a Suspension Order. The Registrant’s behaviour is remediable. She has taken positive steps in this regard, for example by remaining abstinent and continuing to demonstrate that she is able to work in a stressful environment, albeit one which does not have the demands of her previous frontline child protection work. The Panel therefore concluded that the risk of repetition of her behaviour has now further reduced, taking into account the time which has elapsed since the previous hearing.

57. The Panel also took into account the insight which the Registrant has shown, in particular her insight into the impact of her behaviour on public confidence in the profession. Further, all the evidence points to the Registrant having been a valued and capable Social Worker.

58. Taking all of the circumstances into account, including the seriousness of the Registrant’s offending, the Panel was of the view that a Suspension Order for a period of 12 months was the proportionate sanction in this case. This will allow the Registrant further time to demonstrate continued abstinence as well as the ability to work in a responsible role. Further, a 12 month Suspension Order will be appropriate to mark the seriousness of the offending behaviour.

59. In coming to this decision, the Panel considered the principle of proportionality, and took into account the impact a Suspension Order will have on the Registrant, including preventing her from working as a Social Worker. However, the Panel balanced this with the need to uphold the public interest and decided that a Suspension Order was necessary to uphold the wider public interest in this case. 

60. The Panel noted the Indicative Sanctions Policy which states that 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. The Panel was of the view that the Registrant has taken significant steps towards remedying her failings, and that these steps have, since the time of the last hearing, been continuing. Therefore, the Panel concluded that a Striking Off Order would be disproportionate. Although the convictions in this case are serious, the Registrant’s ongoing remediation and her insight led the Panel to conclude that the gravity of her offending was not incompatible with her returning to the profession. In this case, the public interest may be served by allowing the Registrant, if she wishes, to return to practice at some point in the future.
 
61. The Panel was of the view that a subsequent panel reviewing this sanction may be assisted by the Registrant providing the following:

i. evidence of continuing abstinence;

ii. references regarding current employment; and

iii. an update regarding future intentions about returning to practice, and how she plans to refresh and maintain her professional knowledge and skills.

62. The Panel therefore decided to impose a Suspension Order for a period of 12 months. 

Order

The Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Mrs Jennifer Kathryn Lewis for a period of 12 months from the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

An Interim Suspension Order was imposed to cover the appeal period.

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Mrs Jennifer Kathryn Lewis

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
22/06/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Hearing has not yet been held
26/06/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended