Jack Gilliland acts for social worker before Fitness to Practise Committee at Social Work England
Jack represented a social worker facing two charges; namely, that he had sent inappropriate messages via a private messaging platform to a friend, and that he had harassed his former manager over a period of some months. The social worker of around ten years’ experience had never been the subject of disciplinary proceedings before.
It was alleged that private messages which he had sent to a friend in the midst of a significant falling out amounted to serious professional misconduct, despite the friend not being connected to the profession in any way. The social worker admitted the facts but denied that they amounted to misconduct capable of falling within the remit of Social Work England. In particular, he argued that they were neither sufficiently serious (Nandi v GMC  EWHC 2317), sufficiently outrageous (Roylance v GMC (No. 2)  1 AC 311), nor sufficiently (or in any way) connected to his profession (Beckwith v SRA  EWHC 3231 (Admin)).
At the hearing, the Panel determined that, although the messages reflected badly on the social worker, they did not fall within the scope of the social worker’s professional practice, and they did not serve to lower the reputation of the profession. They did not amount to misconduct.
Although misconduct was found in relation to the second charge (harassment), the Panel acceded to submissions that the behaviour was out-of-character, remediated, and at such low risk of repetition that a finding of impairment in the public interest was unnecessary.
As well as heeding the warning in Beckwith, the Panel’s decision appears to be in keeping with a wider feeling that privacy is due its Restoration. In recent years, regulators have arguably exploited the ubiquity of electronic communications to delve further into how professionals behave in their private lives.
In addition to the messages being private in nature, the Panel considered relevant the relatively short timeframe in which the messages were sent, and the fact that the registrant desisted immediately upon being asked. The Panel’s decision is a welcome reminder that there is a line, somewhere, that even regulators should not cross.