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The Court of Appeal (CoA) has upheld a claim brought by the former head of children’s services at Haringey Council, Sharon Shoesmith, against former Secretary of State for Schools Ed Balls and the council.
The judgment said the council and Secreatary of State had been “procedurally unfair” in sacking her over the Baby P case. A claim against Ofsted was dismissed.
Landmark Chambers’ James Maurici was instructed by Beachcroft partner Tony Child to represent Shoesmith in her claim against Balls, Ofsted and Haringey London Borough Council.
The Treasury Solicitor instructed Blackstone Chambers’ James Eadie QC, the Treasury devil, to represent Balls. Monckton Chambers’ Tim Ward, who took silk this year, advised Ofsted while Devereux Chambers’ Ingrid Simler QC was instructed directly for Haringey.
In December 2008 Shoesmith was sacked from her position as director of children’s services at Haringey without compensation.
She was alleged to have been responsible for failings within her department that resulted in it not detecting the extensive child abuse that led to the death of 17-month old Peter Connolly.
Overturning that decision the CoA panel of three chaired by Master of the Rolls Lord Neuberger said that Balls had acted in a manner that was “intrinsically unfair and unlawful” by denying the appellant the opportunity to put her case forward before she was sacked.
Therefore, it said, the decision to sack her without notice was “unlawful and void”.
Lord Justice Kay, giving the substantive ruling, said Shoesmith had been sacrificed to deflect public outrage about the Baby P case.
He ruled: “Those involved in areas such as social work and healthcare are particularly vulnerable to such treatment.
“This is not to say that I consider Ms Shoesmith to be blameless or that I have a view as to the extent of her or anyone else’s blameworthiness. That is not the business of this court.
“However, it’s our task to adjudicate upon the application and fairness of procedures adopted by public authorities when legitimate causes for concern arise, as they plainly did in this case. 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.”
The Department for Education said it will apply for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court against the ruling.