Decision: Muriel Craig (Panel Meeting)
GTC Scotland Fitness to Teach Panel Outcome
17 March 2021
|Teacher||Muriel (Patricia) Craig|
|Panel||Nasreen Anderson, Kathleen McCormick and Ruth Sharp|
|Legal Assessor||Amanda Pringle|
|Servicing Officer||Kirsty McIntosh|
|Presenting Officer||Sarah Donnachie, Anderson Strathern (not present)|
|Teacher’s representative||Fiona Muirs, Balfour + Manson (not present)|
Any reference in this decision to:
- ‘GTC Scotland’ 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 GTC Scotland Fitness to Teach Rules 2017 or refers to a provision (or provisions) within them.
The Panel Meeting was arranged to consider the following:
- An application made by the Presenting Officer for a virtual Full Hearing.
By default, GTC Scotland conducts all its fitness to teach hearings in person in its dedicated Hearings Suite at its office in Edinburgh. However, a Fitness to Teach Panel may order that all or any part of a hearing may be conducted by the use of electronic communications provided the method adopted allows the parties, the panel and any witnesses to attend remotely, and, where the hearing is in public, allows the public to view proceedings.
Electronic communications are commonly used for witnesses to give evidence by participating from a remote location. In addition, an entire hearing may be conducted via electronic communication. Such a hearing is described as a ‘virtual hearing’.
At present, due to Scottish Government restrictions and guidelines on public interaction and concerns about public safety as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, hearings in person cannot currently take place at the GTC Scotland office.
An application for use of electronic communications in relation to a participant taking part in a hearing from a remote location or for a virtual hearing is made by the party who wants to use electronic communication. The relevant procedure and criteria for determining such applications are set out in the Use of Electronic Communications in Hearings Practice Statement.
In accordance with Rule 1.7.17, the Panel admitted all of the documents and statements listed below as evidence for the purposes of the meeting:
- Presenting Officer Application for a Virtual Hearing, dated 22 December 2020
- Appendix to Presenting Officer’s Application, dated 22 December 2020
- Response from Teacher, dated 26 January 2021
- Virtual Hearing Application Test Call Form, dated 18 January 2021
The Panel did not deal with any preliminary matters.
Application for a Virtual Hearing
An application dated 22 December 2020 for a virtual hearing was made by the Presenting Officer. The Panel considered the application and submissions made in response which addressed, in particular, the following factors:
- Is the Teacher represented?
The Teacher is represented by a Solicitor at Balfour + Manson legal firm.
- Does the Teacher have any particular needs or vulnerabilities?
The Panel was not made aware of any particular needs or vulnerabilities of the Teacher.
- How will the Teacher and Representative, if any, communicate during the hearing?
This would be arranged between the Teacher and her Representative.
- The nature of the proceedings and issues to be determined at the hearing?
This will be a Full Hearing in relation to conduct allegations.
- The estimated length of the hearing?
The anticipated duration of the hearing is no longer than 4 days.
- The extent and complexity of the issues in dispute?
The Teacher admits one of the allegations. The Teacher disputes two of the allegations.
- Will the hearing take place in public or (partly) in private?
The hearing will take place in public, though parts of the hearing dealing with the Teacher’s health will be heard in private.
- The volume of documentation to be referred to during the hearing and how documentation will be provided to witnesses for reference, if required?
The documentation to be considered by the Panel will include papers for the Presenting Officer and papers for the Teacher. The combined bundle of papers consists of 115 pages. It is envisaged that individual witness bundles will be prepared which will include the witness statement and associated documentation that will be referred to during their evidence.
- The nature of witnesses to give evidence at the hearing?
The three witnesses for GTC Scotland are all Pupil Support Assistants. There are seven witnesses for the Teacher including herself, an expert witness and four character witnesses.
- How long is each witness estimated to give evidence for?
The three Pupil Support Assistants are expected to give evidence for 45 minutes each. The Teacher is expected to give evidence for 1 hour. The duration of the other witnesses’ evidence will vary between 15-30 minutes each. No running order has been prepared as yet.
- Do any of the witnesses have particular needs or vulnerabilities?
It has been agreed that the evidence of a medical witness for the Teacher will be taken remotely due to her particular needs. Beyond that, the Panel was not made aware of any particular needs or vulnerabilities of the other witnesses.
- What confidence is there that each witness will be able to follow questions easily and any documents being referred to?
Based on the manner in which virtual hearings have thus far been conducted, there is great confidence that the Teacher and other witnesses will be able to follow questions easily and any documents referred to.
- How will witnesses be provided with hearing documentation?
The Teacher’s Representative will have access to the hearing bundle in advance of any hearing. Where there are other witnesses, an individual witness bundle will be emailed to each witness shortly before they are due to give evidence.
- Will all participants at the hearing have access to a suitable electronic device?
It is anticipated that each participant has access to a suitable electronic device. In addition, it is envisaged that GTC Scotland and participants and witnesses will perform checks in advance of any virtual hearing to ensure that there are no issues with connection.
- Will all participants have a suitable internet connection capable of coping with the requirements of a virtual hearing?
It is anticipated that each participant has access to a suitable internet connection and that this will also be checked.
- Will all participants have an appropriate location from where they can participate alone and undisturbed?
It is anticipated that each participant has an appropriate location from where they can participate alone and undisturbed.
In addition, the Panel noted that, subject to a successful GTC Scotland check being carried out in advance of any virtual hearing, the Teacher’s Representative consented to the virtual hearing application. The test was successfully carried out on 18 February 2021.
The Panel appreciated that it should balance all of the relevant factors outlined above, the interests of the parties and the public interest in deciding whether or not to grant the application.
The Panel carefully considered the application and submissions made in response to it. The Panel had regard to the Rules and to the Use of Electronic Communications in Hearings Practice Statement as well as the advice, as required, of the Legal Assessor and Servicing Officer.
The Panel decided that the balance of the various factors and interests to be assessed in determining the application weighed in favour of granting the application made.
The Panel did not consider that there were any personal, evidential, practical or technical reasons to refuse the application. Further, given the ongoing issues caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, there would be a considerable delay in the progress of the present proceedings if the application were to be refused.
Accordingly, the Panel decided to grant the application for a virtual hearing.