Community Care report on the case of Lynda Barnes, a social work team manager in a child protection team with Bath and North East Somerset Council who was involved in a case involving care proceedings last year. Not necessarily unusual so far.
She was found to have been lying under oath, fabricating evidence and asking a more junior social worker to lie in court and another social worker gave evidence stating that
people were “frightened” of Barnes, describing her as a “force to be reckoned with”
If staff did not agree with Barnes, they were told “life could be made very difficult,” she said. B also gave a number of instances where Barnes had lied to others.
All fairly conclusive in the quite appropriate censure. However the father of one of the children involved in the care proceedings, asked to see a copy of Barnes’ CRB (Criminal Record Bureau check) when it was revealed that she had a conviction for ‘conspiracy to murder’.
Allan Norman, a solicitor and social worker, writes in his blog at Community Care, that he feels it is right that the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act is interpreted in a way such that those who have served their sentences are able to move on and gain that rehabilitation in society.
While seeing his point that
Instead of being convinced, as we social workers should be, of the capacity of all people to change, and that a criminal conviction should not be a life sentence, I fear we are moving towards precisely that: a label is the end of a career.
I am not wholly convinced by the argument although I know I should be. I want to be but it doesn’t sit right in my gut, I suppose. I think it is the gravity of the offence as much as anything.
I am more than happy to work alongside those who have spent convictions and have done, however I had always thought that any conviction for a violent offence would automatically bar me from practising (as opposed to a fraud or non-payment of tax type conviction).
Norman’s argument that such a conviction should not automatically disbar Barnes from registration as a social worker sits a little uncomfortably with me. Possibly due to the GSCC’s lack of action but I think back that it is because of the nature of the conviction. Perhaps that makes me over judgemental. I suspect it does so will be pondering more on that over the next few days I imagine.
The GSCC confirm that
a criminal conviction was not a bar to registration.
And I absolutely support that without any question but I do think the nature of the conviction should be taken into account. Particularly, as The Independent notes, things may not have been as straightforward as they were presented
Mrs Barnes had disclosed her conviction to the council when she was first employed and despite this had successfully registered with the General Social Care Council in January 2006.
The council and the GSCC simply believed Mrs Barnes’ version of events of the crime, which Judge Paul Barclay said was a “highly sanitised version of events in which her role is minimised compared to what is revealed in the Crown Court papers”.
So perhaps the issue isn’t the spent conviction but more the lack of ‘checking process’ by the GSCC and the employing council who would have both had access to her CRB. I understand the GSCC did refer this case to a ‘committee’ and that, again, according to the Independent
the committee “considered the length of time since the offence, the sanction given by the court, the context behind the offence, that she had been working in child protection for six years prior to registration, had positive references and that her employer at the time endorsed the application and were aware of her conviction and she had been working for them before registration came into force.”
So while now, the employing council can say that
The council admitted it was a mistake to employ Mrs Barnes.
They were still happy to furnish a glowing reference to the GSCC – seemingly, according to the judge anyway, with knowledge of the ‘sanitised version of events’ which was supplied to them and taken on trust.
While I can understand that a spent conviction should not be a bar to a career for the rest of ones life, it should, at the very least and with such a serious offence, at least necessitate further investigate into the backgrounds by the GSCC and the employing council – after all, isn’t that what CRBs are for?
Regardless, she has, without doubt, brought the name of the profession into disrepute by her actions. As if it was needed.