The General Teaching Council for Scotland

Enhancing professionalism in education since 1965

William Burtt Procedural Meeting

Procedural Hearing

Tuesday 30 January 2018

Teacher William Burtt
Membership number 1866058L
Registration category Applicant
Panel John Kilpatrick (Convener), Maureen Anderson, Lily Proudfoot
Legal Assessor Robert Frazer
Presenting Officer Gary Burton, Anderson Strathern

Any reference in this decision to:

  • “GTCS” means the General Teaching Council for Scotland;
  • the “Panel” means the Fitness to Teach Panel considering the case; and
  • the “Rules” (and any related expression) means the GTCS Fitness to Teach Rules 2017 or refers to a provision (or provisions) within them.

Background

The Procedural Hearing was arranged to consider the following:

  1. An application by the Teacher for all of the hearing to held in private and for all information relating to names, locations, convictions, sentences, witnesses and statements to be made anonymous.

Evidence

In accordance with rule 1.7.19, the Panel admitted all of the documents and statements listed below as evidence for the purposes of the hearing:

Teacher’s hearing papers:

  1. Notice of Teacher’s Case Form dated 17/09/2017
  2. Procedural Issue Form – applications for the Teacher
  3. European Convention on Human Rights
  4. Human Rights Act 1988

Presenting Officer’s hearing papers:

  1. Notice of Presenting Officer’s Case Form dated 23/08/2017
  2. Submissions on behalf of the Presenting Officer
  3. Copy of Memorandum of an entry entered in the register of the South East London Magistrates’ Court LJA: 2575

The Panel heard oral submissions from the Teacher. He referred to his written application together with the GTCS Conducting Hearings in Private Practice Statement. He made specific reference to Articles 4, 6, 8 and 10 in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). It was his submission that the entirety of the Full Hearing should be in private for all the reasons he advanced. In addition, he sought anonymisation of all names, locations, convictions, sentences and witness statements.

In relation to ECHR Article 6, he submitted that, whilst an individual is entitled to a fair trial in public, the press and public may be excluded if an individual’s right to a private life was infringed. He submitted that, in relation to his own position, given the nature of the allegation and the negative impact that the conviction had had on him and his family, it was appropriate that the Full Hearing be in private.

In relation to ECHR Article 4, he submitted that an individual should not be tried and punished for the same offence twice. As he had already been convicted in a criminal court, it was appropriate that these regulatory proceedings should not be in the public domain and should therefore be in private. He made reference to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 which he stated was applicable.

In relation to ECHR Article 8, he submitted that if details of the allegation were made public then this violated his right to privacy in his family life. He submitted that following his conviction, he and his wife had been subjected to harassment, including disruption to the funeral of a close relative. In addition, he stated that verbal threats had been made against them which compromised their safety. Press articles at the time of his conviction were biased in their reporting and he was concerned that further reporting of these proceedings would again have a negative impact on him and his family.

In relation to ECHR Article 10, he submitted that every individual has a right to freedom of expression without interference by a public authority. He submitted that, as GTCS is a public authority, the public hearing and reporting of these proceedings would interfere with his right to freely express himself in relation to the allegation against him.

Finally, in relation to his application for anonymity, he highlighted some recent GTCS cases where anonymisation had taken place. In addition, he highlighted a number of papers he wished to refer to in evidence which were marked as “private and confidential” and could therefore not be released in any way into the public domain.

In response, the Presenting Officer referred to his written submissions which he founded upon and drew the Panel’s attention to the relevant rules, namely 1.7.2 and 1.7.3. He submitted that a hearing should be in public and can only be in private (whether wholly or in part) if exceptional circumstances exist which justify departure from the normal position as set out in rule 1.7.2. He submitted that, in the present case, the Teacher had failed to demonstrate that exceptional circumstances existed to justify such a departure. He submitted that the allegation was based on a conviction from another jurisdiction within the UK and, as such, the matter had already been the subject of a public hearing which was reported by the press at the time. He also made specific reference to the GTCS Conducting Hearings in Private Practice Statement, which indicated that it was not sufficient to depart from the normal rule simply because a teacher may suffer a degree of personal distress or embarrassment when facing regulatory proceedings. As the Presenting Officer had not seen any of the documents marked “private and confidential” he was unable to comment specifically on their content or why they were marked in that way.

In response to Panel questioning, the Teacher indicated that he had not been subjected to any harassment or threats since moving to Scotland but was concerned that if the matter were to be reported this would cause problems for him and compromise his family’s safety.

Decision

The Panel carefully considered all of the evidence and submissions presented by the parties, both oral and documentary. It had regard to the GTCS Conducting Hearings in Private Practice Statement and the relevant rules. In particular, it noted that rule 1.7.2 states that hearings shall be in public and rule 1.7.3 which states:

“A Panel may, at any stage of the proceedings on its own volition or on application to it, make an order with a view to preventing or restricting the public disclosure of any aspect of proceedings. A Panel may do this so far as it considers it necessary where it is satisfied … that it is in the interests of justice to do so and the particular circumstances of the case outweigh the interests of the Teacher and the public in the hearing being held in public…

Such orders may include (but will not be limited to) –

  1. An order that a hearing be conducted (in whole or in part) in private;
  2. An order that identities of specified parties, witnesses or other persons referred to in the proceedings should not be disclosed at such proceedings to the public (by the use of anonymization or otherwise) and whether before, during or after those proceedings;..”
  3. The Panel noted that the Teacher had not provided any medical evidence or other documentary evidence in support of his position. He had not provided any witness statements or other reports to support his assertion that he and his wife had been harassed or threatened following his conviction in England.

    The Panel considered that for an application for privacy (whether wholly or in part) to be granted there had to be compelling reasons amounting to exceptional circumstances to justify a departure from rule 1.7.2. The onus for doing so lay with the Teacher.

    The Panel noted that details of the conviction on which the allegation by the GTCS was brought were already in the public domain. It considered there had been no reporting of the original matter in Scotland. The Teacher had provided no evidence to substantiate his submissions that his rights to privacy in terms of ECHR were violated.

    In particular, the Panel considered that ECHR Article 6 made clear that a hearing should be in public and that the press and public should only be excluded if an individual’s right to a private life require to be protected or where publicity would otherwise prejudice the interests of justice. The Panel further considered that, whilst the Teacher was understandably concerned about the prospect of a Full Hearing being in public, it was for him to demonstrate that his right to a private life was infringed to the extent that it was necessary for the Full Hearing be in private. It was not enough to state that it was causing anxiety, distress or embarrassment. The Panel further considered that any potential damage to the Teacher’s reputation would not be disproportionate.

    In relation to ECHR Article 4, the Panel did not consider that the Teacher was subject to the so called rule of “double jeopardy”. The fact that he had been convicted in a criminal court of law elsewhere in the UK did not mean that he could not be subject to investigation and inquiry by GTCS as this is not a criminal procedure. One of the objectives of the GTCS is to protect pupils and the public and in its role as regulator GTCS is able to bring fitness to teach proceedings regarding teachers based on criminal convictions for offences committed in private life. The Panel therefore did not consider that the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 was relevant to its consideration and the Teacher had failed to demonstrate why he considered it was.

    In relation to ECHR Article 8, the Panel did not consider that the right to privacy and a family life had been infringed. The conviction on which the allegation is based was against the Teacher alone. It had already been the subject of press reporting at the time. There was nothing before the Panel to persuade it that it was necessary for the Full Hearing to be in private when the matter in question was already within the public domain. In these circumstances, it could not be said that the right to privacy and a family life would be significantly compromised by this matter being heard in public.

    In relation to ECHR Article 10, the Panel did not consider that the Teacher’s right to freedom of expression would be infringed by the Full Hearing being in public. He would be able to give oral evidence and make submissions. If a witness’ identity needed to be protected then an application to do so could be considered at the time, subject to the usual requirement of it being in the interests of justice.

    As far as the application for anonymity was concerned, the Panel considered that, at this stage, no compelling reasons had been provided for either the Teacher, any witnesses, other parties or documents to be anonymised for the same reasons as given above. In relation to any documents marked “private and confidential”, the Panel considered that in the absence of the documents themselves it was not possible to consider their contents but it would be possible for the Teacher to take steps to ask the author or the individual referred to if such information could be used during the course of the hearing. Depending on the response, an application for anonymity could be made and considered at that time.

    For all these reasons, the Panel determined that the applications should, at this stage, be refused. In particular, it considered that the interests of justice did not justify departure from the normal rule as set out in 1.7.2. It was aware that the overarching principles of the GTCS include openness, transparency and fairness in proceedings and that those principles were upheld by the Full Hearing being in public without anonymisation for the reasons set out above.