A family court judge was wrong not to disclose details of serious domestic abuse by a senior social worker to the regulatory body overseeing his profession, a court was told this week. The man who works with vulnerable adults was found to have assaulted his ex partner and mother of his child, fracturing her hand ‘causing lasting disability’. This case is subject to reporting restrictions to prevent anything identifying the family or the child. Hannah Summers reports
Judge Farooq Ahmed also made findings following a private hearing that the social worker had used his temper to ‘frighten and control’, was ’emotionally abusive’, behaved in a way that ‘amounted to gaslighting’ and hit the family dog in front of the couple’s child. But he refused to disclose a copy of his judgment to Social Work England after it made an application to the court following an anonymous referral.
Ahmed received written arguments from both the parents – but not Social Work England – before refusing the application. But the mother appealed his decision.
Mrs Justice Knowles is considering the arguments following a two-day public hearing at the Family Division of the High Court and will give a judgment in the near future.
The appeal raises wider questions about the family court’s responsibility to disclose findings of domestic abuse to regulatory bodies overseeing professions such as teachers, health professionals and police officers.
In a written case outline, the mother’s barrister Charlotte Proudman said: ‘This case is of significant public interest because it concerns the impact of findings of serious abuse on the employment of a parent who works with vulnerable people where safeguarding is a key issue.’ In refusing to disclose the judgement to Social Work England, ‘vulnerable people could be at serious risk of harm under the father’s care’, she added.
Ahmed refused the application for disclosure on the basis it would ‘likely be detrimental to the child’s welfare’.
Proudman told Knowles the judge had aligned himself with the father’s position that disclosure could impact his job security. ‘The judge was mindful the father is at risk of losing his job and this will impact the child’s maintenance,’ Proudman told the court.
But she said Ahmed had ‘put the cart before the horse’ in finding the father would lose his job and that this would adversely impact the child. ‘It was not for this judge to make a decision that there was a risk the father would lose his job and there would be financial implications for the child,’ Proudman told the court. She added: ‘He had not asked for submissions from Social Work England about how they may have handled this process.’
Representing Social Work England, Jessica Purchase argued Ahmed had ‘failed to take into account the enormous public interest in SWE being able to properly protect vulnerable adults and children from social workers who are not fit to practise’.
The barrister also said the judge had been wrong to find their client could conduct its own investigation without disclosing the judgment. She told Knowles: ‘There is a very real risk if the father is denying any or all of the allegations against him this will be heard at a hearing. It would be bizarre not to allow Social Work England to take into account findings made by the family court.’
Purchase said the man was a practising social worker during his relationship with his ex partner and when he had a duty of care not to harm or exploit anyone ‘either at or outside work’. If the findings are withheld, Social Work England would be ‘left fumbling in the dark’ and compromised in its ‘duty to protect the public’, she added.
Proudman said the onus should not have been on her client – a vulnerable survivor of domestic abuse – to bring the appeal. She said: ‘The burden was put on the mother – a vulnerable woman… who was placed in a position where she is arguing Social Work England’s position.’
The father who has worked with children, adults and adolescents throughout his career and was representing himself told the court: ‘I have never had a single complaint about my practise and have had an unblemished career.’
He added: ‘I’m not trying to minimise the seriousness of the findings or excuse my behaviour in front of the children and exposing them to my temper.’ He argued that Ahmed’s decision should be upheld. ‘As the judge who has a full knowledge of the facts and dynamics of this case, I submit that he has not erred in his assessment,’ he told Mrs Justice Knowles.
On the second day of the appeal hearing he told the court he was not looking for sympathy but that he was ‘very, very sorry’ for what happened between him and his child’s mother, adding that he had accepted Ahmed’s findings and had ‘taken measures’ to ‘do something about it’.