Consultation on the Constitution of Fitness to Practise Panels - Legally Qualified Chairs
We are consulting on proposed changes to our Fitness to Practise Panels (panels). We hold hearings before panels to decide if an applicant or registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired, whether we should restore someone who was on, then removed from our Register or whether there is a need to impose a temporary order in the most high risk cases. You can find out more about this in the fitness to practise section.
We are proposing the following changes to our panels:
- introducing a legally qualified chair
- if we introduce legally qualified chairs we will also change the quorum of the panel from two to three.
We believe that our hearings are fair and the process is proportionate and efficient and these changes will make sure that it continues to be fair, efficient and cost effective.
Aim of the consultation
We think that moving to a system of legally qualified chairs would be an improvement on the existing model. However, we would like to hear your views as we want to make sure any changes still deliver the best system for people who attend our hearings.
We particularly want to hear from people who have been through our hearing process and those who represent members of the social service workforce. We would also like to hear from people who have worked with or been through a hearing before a legally qualified chair at other organisations. We will also consult our current panel members and legal advisers to our panels.
We have carefully considered the approach of other tribunals and panels, including the Mental Health Tribunal, Employment Tribunal for Scotland and the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service and our proposed changes will result in a similar panel structure to those bodies.
What are we asking you to do?
The consultation gives background information about the SSSC and describes the current system before setting out the reasons for the proposed changes. We are looking for your views on the general principles behind the proposal and the new process we are proposing.
The consultation closes on 2 June 2017.
The Scottish Social Services Council (Fitness to Practise) Rules 2016 set up the panels as the adjudicatory framework for hearing Fitness to Practise cases. The panel is made up of a maximum of five people with a quorum of two. Each must have one social service member and one lay member, with a lay (i.e. non-social service) majority. In practise there are usually three members, the social service member and two lay members with one lay member in the role of the chair. Members also chair case management meetings. A legal adviser is appointed to advise panel members (or the chair in a case management meeting) on matters of law. The legal adviser also has the responsibility to make sure the proceedings are conducted fairly.
Members of panels are appointed by the SSSC’s Council following an open recruitment exercise. They are provided with induction and training, primarily by the legal adviser and then are appraised at the end of each hearing by the legal adviser.
Legal advisers are appointed through a procurement exercise. Each firm submits a tender and then there is an interview with the lead contact for the tender. The contract is retendered regularly.
The current process has been operating successfully for many years. It is a traditional model which many other regulators use. However, the volume of hearings has increased over the last few years and it is vital that panels can take cases through our system as quickly as possible while continuing to make sure that hearings are conducted fairly and in accordance with the law.
Improving the speed and efficiency of hearings will improve the experience of people coming to a hearing. It will also increase the number of hearings that can be run each year which will reduce the overall time from the end of an investigation to the end of the hearing.
The legal advisers fulfill an important role in making sure that the panel is aware of and understands the legal aspects of the hearing, including how the rules operate, dealing with legal issues raised and most importantly making sure that the hearing is fair. We consider that this important role can be fulfilled by a legally qualified chair, maintaining the legal input which is necessary to both protect the rights of the worker and make sure that the hearing as a whole is properly conducted.
For more information on our panels see our hearings video.
It is proposed that we replace one of the lay members on the panel with a legally qualified chair and keep the existing total number of members on the panel. This would mean there would be no requirement for a legal adviser. We would also amend the constitution of the panel to 3 and decisions would be taken by a simple majority.
This change would need changes to the Fitness to Practise rules and we would recruit individual legally qualified chairs rather than legal advisers