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Shoesmith was 'scapegoated', Maurice Kay LJ says

27 May 2011

Lord Justice Maurice Kay has condemned the way in which Sharon Shoesmith, former children services’ director at Haringey Council, was “summarily scapegoated” following the death of Baby P in 2007.

Maurice Kay LJ was ruling this morning on judicial review challenges brought by Shoesmith, who was summarily dismissed in December 2008 without payment in lieu of notice or compensation.

Delivering the leading judgment in R (on the application of Shoesmith) v OFSTED and others [2011] EWCA Civ 642, Maurice Kay LJ said he did not consider Shoesmith to be “blameless” but the task of the court was to adjudicate on the fairness of procedures used by public authorities.

“Whatever her shortcomings may have been (and, I repeat, I cannot say), she was entitled to be treated lawfully and fairly and not simply and summarily scapegoated.”

Lord Justice Maurice Kay dismissed Shoesmith’s challenge to an “extremely critical” OFSTED report into the safeguarding of children’s services in Haringey.

However, he upheld her challenge to the way she was treated by former education secretary Ed Balls, who issued a direction under section 497A of the Education Act 1996 appointing John Coughlan, seconded from another local authority, in her place.

“I find it a deeply unattractive proposition that the mere juxtaposition of a state of affairs and a person who is ‘accountable’ should mean that there is nothing that that person might say which could conceivably explain, excuse or mitigate her predicament,” Maurice Kay LJ said.

“‘Accountability’ is not synonymous with ‘heads must roll’. I do not consider it likely that parliament when creating the position of director of children’s services (DCS), intended those who may be attracted to such an important and difficult position to be volunteering for such unfairness in their personal position.”

Maurice Kay LJ also allowed Shoesmith’s claim relating to her summary dismissal by Haringey Council. The reasons given for it were the secretary of state’s direction and a “fundamental breach of trust and confidence”.

He went on: “There was no need for Haringey to move with such haste against a previously respected senior employee who was known to be in dire straits by reason of recent events.

“Someone else was already acting as DCS pursuant to the secretary of state’s directions and Ms Shoesmith was under suspension. The appearance of a predetermined dismissal without notice or payment in lieu seems to me to be sufficient to make good the charge of unfairness.”

Lord Neuberger and Lord Justice Stanley Burnton agreed, for their own reasons.

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