Preparing for the Panel
Regulatory hearings are very similar to civil court trials
You have the right to know what the case is against you and what evidence will be called in advance of the hearing, you have the right to be represented and you have the right to both give evidence and call other people to give evidence on your behalf. An independent qualified lawyer assists the Panel and the case against you is prepared and presented by a firm of specialist regulatory lawyers who will question you. In our view, expert legal representation in this environment is the only way to ensure that your case is considered fairly.
The hearing is normally conducted in public along the same lines and with the same burden of proof as a civil trial. First the TRA will present its case and its witnesses and these can be cross-examined by us, then you and your witnesses will be called and may be cross-examined by the TRA’s lawyer. Each witness can also be questioned by the panel. There are then closing submissions from each party and the Panel retires to consider and write its decision.
Many legal rules of evidence are in play, for example, whilst you are giving you oral evidence you cannot talk to us or anyone else about the case. Hearings can be stressful but we are experienced advocates and will guide you throughout this process whilst we have conduct of your case. More details of the process are available in the TRA’s guide.
We will require the TRA’s lawyers clarify and specify the allegations against you in their Notice of Proceedings, which must be served on you at least 8 weeks before the hearing. The current rules state both sides must exchange case papers at least 4 weeks before the hearing, but this would mean you would not get the opportunity to react to the evidence against you. Therefore we insist that we will respond at least 4 weeks after the TRA finalise its case against you and provide all documents.
In some cases we apply for a Case Management hearing to direct exactly how and when the evidence is submitted. As the time to respond is often so short – only 1 month – we start our preparations much earlier. We know this is a difficult period in your professional life, but postponing the often unwelcome task of engaging with the regulatory process can harm your case.
Your witness statement
A central task is the preparation of your written statement in response to the allegations. The exact wording of the allegations may change but the general thrust of them usually will not. If you deny allegations we will help you carefully set out why and refer to the documentary or other evidence you rely on. If you admit the allegations we will carefully explain the context and any mitigation.
The Panel’s main job is to consider whether it is in the public interest to allow you to continue to teach, not simply to make findings on what has happened. No matter what you are alleged to have done, they need to understand who you are; your character and motivations and why you are an educationalist. We strongly recommend the first section of your statement is an outline of your background and teaching career with plenty of examples. Clients usually find this boosts damaged self-esteem and panels rely on it to assess your career as a whole.
Teachers are expected to be reflective practitioners; a model in which you stop and think about your actions, draw on theory and feedback and relate it all to your plans to improve your future practice. Think about why witnesses are giving evidence against you – if they have their own agenda can you demonstrate that, or could they be correct but exaggerating? The Panel will look for signs that you have insight into how others perceive you. If in hindsight you acknowledge that you made mistakes the Panel will give you credit for that. However if what you are admitting may amount to a criminal offence we will give careful advice on your legal position.
We will ensure you tell a clear narrative in chronological order. Sometimes the case papers are repetitive and muddled, but your statement is your chance to give the panel a clear and concise account of events. Deal with all the allegations openly and honestly as an adverse inference could be drawn if hidden facts later come out during questioning.
Many clients find it hard to respond to allegations which attack their integrity and competence. We do understand how challenging this process can be. If you get blocked we can take your statement in various ways that ensure your story is told.
Documents and disclosure
The general rule is that you must disclose all relevant documents and if you want us to try and obtain documents you believe the TRA’s witnesses or others may have then we will need plenty of notice. We will assist you to select, order and exhibit the documents that are relevant to your case. We will finalise, reference and format your case papers so they read easily as part of the panel bundle.
Think carefully about which factual witnesses you wish to call. Find their contact details and check with them that they are willing to help in principle. Again, if they are willing to write something that we can work up into a statement then encourage them to do so. To carry weight factual witnesses do have to attend the hearing. We can discuss the arrangements for that with them.
We will help gather character witnesses who can vouch for your integrity and describe what you bring to the teaching profession. These can be from throughout your teaching career, not just colleagues but others such as ex-pupils. These supporters often provide written testimonials but the panel only gives weight to testimonials from people who are standing by you in full knoweldge of the allegations and your response to them. If a character witness is a current or future employer then we often advise they do attend.
If you wish to call any relevant medical evidence or wish to apply for anonymity or to keep personal or health details private tell us well in advance so we can make the relevant applications.
Panel findings and Secretary of State’s decision
The panel has to decide three things. The first is if the facts of the allegations are made out. The second is whether the facts it has found proven on the balance of probabilities amount to unacceptable professional conduct (UPC) or conduct that brings the teaching profession into disrepute. They announce those findings towards the end of the hearing and if necessary then invite submissions of mitigation on whether a prohibition should be made and if so for how long.
The panel then retires and makes its third decision; a recommendation to the Secretary of State for Education regarding prohibition. You do not find that out in the hearing. The final decision is taken by a senior DfE official who usually, but not always, follows the panel’s recommendation and that decision is sent out in writing some days after the hearing and prior to being published.
If appropriate, we will advise you of any possible grounds of challenge to the final decision by way of statutory appeal to the High Court and the procedures and funding options involved.