Why have we asked you to attend a Fitness to Practise Panel hearing?
If we receive information about a worker’s conduct, professional practice or health, which causes us a concern, we may refer the worker to a Fitness to Practise Panel hearing. At this hearing a Panel will hear from witnesses and consider evidence and make a decision.
We will ask you to attend the hearing as a witness if we think you have information which is relevant to the case.
Who is at the hearing?
- The worker may attend. They may have someone representing them. Sometimes the worker does not attend and is not represented.
- Fitness to Practise Panel. This includes a legally qualified chair (a qualified solicitor or advocate and the person who leads the hearing), a social service member and a lay member. The social service member will have experience of working in a similar role to the worker and is registered with us.
- Some hearings, which started under our old rules, may have a legal adviser instead of a legally qualified chair. In these hearings, the chair of the panel is another lay member. The legal adviser is an independent solicitor from a private firm who is there to give the panel legal advice. The legal adviser does not take part in the decision making process.
- A clerk. An SSSC employee who makes sure the hearing process runs smoothly.
- A presenter. This is a solicitor employed by the SSSC to present the SSSC's case to the Panel.
- Other witnesses (if any).
- Members of the public and the media (if the hearing is held in public).
What happens when you give evidence?
The clerk will show you to the hearing room when it is time for you to give evidence.
The chair of the Fitness to Practise Panel will explain what case is being heard and ask everyone to introduce themselves to you. We do not ask you to take an oath, but we expect you to be honest when giving evidence.
You will be asked questions as follows.
- The presenter. The questions will be based on the statement you provided to us. You may also be shown documents, which can include your written statement, and employer policies, and be asked to comment on them.
- The worker or their representative, who may be a solicitor or advocate. Their questions may suggest that you are mistaken about the circumstances or that your evidence is not accurate.
- The panel members and if there is one, the legal adviser. They can ask questions about anything they think is important.
The last person to ask you questions will be the presenter who may ask more questions to make sure your evidence is clear.
If you do not understand any of the questions please ask the person to repeat them.
If you have any questions about giving evidence before the hearing, please contact the caseholder who invited you to attend at any time.
Do you have to attend?
Witness evidence is very important in hearings. Without witness’s cooperation we might be not be able to take action to protect the public, or maintain public trust and confidence. Your attendance helps the Panel get a better understanding of the circumstances and gives them a chance to ask you questions. We appreciate witnesses giving up their time to attend our hearings.
We understand giving evidence may be difficult and worrying. The caseholder will discuss any concerns you may have with you.
If you are a registered worker we expect you to cooperate with our investigations and attend hearings as outlined in our Code of Practice for Social Service Workers.
Is the hearing in public?
This depends on the purpose of the hearing.
Hearings about a registered worker’s fitness to practise are usually in public. This means members of the public and the media may attend. Sometimes the Panel may decide to hear all or part of the hearing in private, for example to protect a vulnerable witness or when they are discussing a worker’s health.
Hearings about a worker’s application to be registered or to consider a temporary order referral are usually in private.
Will your name and your evidence be made public?
Vulnerable witnesses, people who use services and some third parties remain anonymous throughout the hearing to protect their identity. We do not use their full names during the hearing or release them to the public or media.
All other witness’ names are used during the hearing. If you are concerned about your name or your evidence being made public, please speak to the caseholder before the hearing.
We do not invite the media to attend hearings. If the media do attend, we cannot control or influence what they say in any of their reports. The media may use your name and quote something you have said during your evidence in a public hearing.
How long will the hearing last?
The length of a hearing varies from case to case. If the hearing lasts for several days you are unlikely to be asked to attend every day. The caseholder will confirm the exact date and time you are required to attend.
We will try to make sure that you give all your evidence on the day we have asked you to come. Sometimes this is not possible and we may ask you to attend on another day to complete your evidence.
When and where to attend?
We hold most of our hearings at our offices in Dundee. They usually take place between 10am and 5pm. Sometimes we hold our hearings in other places. The caseholder will write to you to confirm the exact date, place and time you need to attend.
If you do not tell us of any dates when you cannot attend, we will assume that you can attend on the dates proposed.
What if you cannot attend?
If at any time, you think you cannot attend, or have any concerns about attending please speak to the caseholder as early as possible. Your particular circumstances can then be discussed. We may ask for confirmation if you are ill or on holiday.
Telling us as early as possible means the caseholder can consider alternative arrangements or ask for an adjournment.
What if you are unwell or delayed on the day of the hearing?
You should contact the caseholder as soon as possible so they can let the Fitness to Practise Panel know.
The caseholder will discuss your circumstances and whether you will be able to attend on a future date.
When you arrive
When you arrive, you should report to reception and explain you are a witness for a hearing. You should ask for the caseholder who invited you to attend. You will then be shown to a witness waiting area.
It is important that you do not discuss your evidence with any other witnesses while you are waiting.
Why would you be asked to leave the hearing room during your evidence?
In some cases, you may be asked to leave the hearing room during your evidence. If this happens, please do not worry, it is not because you have done anything wrong but because the Panel needs to discuss a particular matter before proceeding.
The clerk will tell you where to wait. It is important that you do not discuss your evidence with anyone else while you are waiting.
The clerk will let you know when the Panel is ready to continue with hearing your evidence.
What happens after you have given evidence?
When you have finished giving evidence, you may sit in the public seating area (if the hearing is public) to listen to the rest of the hearing or you may leave the building. You should not discuss your evidence with any other witnesses involved in the hearing.
We cannot give you specific feedback on the case or your role as a witness until the hearing has completely finished. If it is an impairment hearing, the decision will be available on our website seven days after the hearing. We do not publish decisions from application and temporary order hearings.
What if you need to speak to the presenter after the hearing?
If you need or would like to speak with the presenter before leaving, you should advise the clerk who will be able to tell you where to wait. When there is a break in the hearing, the presenter will speak to you.
This may not happen immediately as the hearing may still be going on.
Can you bring a supporter with you?
You can bring a person to support you while you wait to give evidence. This cannot be the worker or another witness in the case. It is important that you do not discuss your evidence with any other person while you are waiting to give evidence.
The supporter may be able to sit in the hearing but sometimes the Panel may decide to hear all or part of a hearing in private. This might include your evidence and if so, the supporter may be asked to leave.
The supporter cannot speak during the hearing.
What should you bring with you?
We provide tea/coffee making facilities and water. There is no catering in our offices but a supermarket cafe and a number of restaurants are within walking distance. Unfortunately we do not provide any other refreshments/snacks so you may wish to bring these with you.
You may want to bring a book or magazine with you to read while you are waiting to give evidence. We do try to stagger witness’ attendance to reduce waiting time but sometimes this is not possible.
You are welcome to bring work with you, but please be aware that you may be sharing the witness room with other witnesses.
What should you wear?
You should wear clothes that you feel comfortable in for attending the hearing but our Fitness to Practise Panel hearings are formal.
What if you have a disability?
Please contact the caseholder who has invited you to attend the hearing to discuss any arrangements we can make to help you attend. We will do everything we can to meet your needs.
If you are a vulnerable witness and you have any concerns about attending a hearing, please speak to the caseholder who has invited you to attend as soon as possible. Your particular circumstances can then be discussed and special measures to help you give evidence can be considered.
Please note that it is only in very limited circumstances that a witness can give evidence anonymously. You can read a definition of a vulnerable witness on pages 27 and 28 of the Scottish Social Services Council (Fitness to Practise) Rules 2016.
Can a witness claim expenses?
If the SSSC has invited you to attend, we will arrange your travel for you or reimburse your travel expenses in line with our subsistence policy. We ask you to use public transport wherever possible. We ask for receipts before making any payment.
We cannot reimburse you for any loss of earnings.
If you need overnight accommodation, discuss this with the caseholder as soon as possible and so that we can make.
If you need to claim expenses see our witness travel and subsistence claim form.
Giving feedback about your experience as a witness
We will ask you to complete a witness feedback form. We appreciate any feedback given and will use it to review our processes and improve them where appropriate.