Police Scotland criticised for ‘indefensible’ approach to teaching misconduct process

Posted: 4th November 2021

A judge has labelled Police Scotland’s refusal to share crucial information with the General Teaching Council of Scotland for key child protection cases as “inexplicable and indefensible”.

The comments follow a court case in the Court of Session which was brought by the GTC after it was forced to apply for multiple court orders to obtain key evidence which would be used in ‘fitness to teach’ hearings.

These hearings are used by the GTC to judge whether the conduct or competence of a teacher – including those who may be the subject of serious criminal allegations against them – means they are a danger to children and unfit to teach.

The court case focused on whether Police Scotland was liable for expenses for seven cases brought by the GTC in order to gain access to this information, which the Police did not oppose.

Police Scotland maintained during the court case that, under GDPR, they were not able to share evidence or information about individuals without the express permission of a court.

The GTC said this approach had led to “difficulties and delays” in some of its most serious cases.

However, in his judgement, Lord Uist criticised the police service’s internal approach to working with the GTC, stating that both advice from the Information Commissioner and Police Scotland’s internal guidance was “clearly wrong in law”.

He also stated Police Scotland were liable for the expenses incurred by the GTC.

Referring to previous cases in regards to the dispute, Lord Uist added: “In the case dealt with by Sheriff Small the position adopted by the respondent [Police Scotland] was inexplicable and indefensible as the petitioner had a clear statutory right to the information which the respondent refused to provide.

“The respondent, by his refusal to provide the information sought, put the petitioner to the needless expense of having to bring the petitions in the first place.

“The petitioner was a body operating in the field of public safety as it is responsible for ensuring that people who are a danger to children are not permitted to remain on the register and so not permitted to continue to teach

“The fact that both parties are public bodies is an irrelevant consideration when determining the question of expenses. So also is the fact that the respondent acted on advice from the ICO as he must take responsibility for his own decisions.”

Reacting, Dr Pauline Stephen, chief executive GTC Scotland said: “It is GTC Scotland’s role to ensure public protection by investigating fitness to teach. In the course of these investigations GTC Scotland has sought information from Police Scotland which has not been provided. This has caused difficulties and delays in GTC Scotland fulfilling its regulatory function.

“We invested considerable time, effort and cost to reach the conclusion that the Court issued on 26 October 2021; we believed it was the right thing to do in the public interest and to ensure public protection, which of course includes child protection. We are aware that the outcome will also have a positive impact on other professional regulators who found themselves in a similar position in their efforts to protect the public“.

Police Scotland said they are considering the judgement, and would not be drawn on the total cost of the expenses connected to the case.

Source: The Scotsman, October 2021

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