Decision: Charles Tighe (Procedural Applications)

GTC Scotland Fitness to Teach Panel Outcome

Panel Meeting

20 January 2020

TeacherCharles Tighe
Registration Number005132
Registration CategoryPrimary
PanelDiane Molyneux, Joanne Sharp and Arthur Stewart
Legal AssessorJames Mulgrew
Servicing OfficerKirsty McIntosh
Presenting OfficerGary Burton, Anderson Strathern (not present)
Teacher’s representativeGraeme Watson, Clyde & Co (not present)

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 Panel Meeting was arranged to consider the following:

  • An application made by the Presenting Officer for the Full Hearing to take place virtually by way of Microsoft Teams;
  • An application made by the Teacher for parts of the Full Hearing to be held in private; and
  • An application made by the Teacher for information in the Full Hearing decision to be anonymised.

By default, GTCS 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 GTCS 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.

The Privacy and Anonymity practice statement states:

‘The default position set out in the Fitness to Teach Rules (the “Rules”) is that Fitness to Teach hearings are held in public. However, Panels have a discretion to make orders with a view to preventing or restricting the public disclosure of any aspect of proceedings where certain criteria are met … ‘

Evidence

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:

  1. Panel Consideration Outcome, dated 17 June 2020
  2. Notice of Consent Order not accepted/referral for hearing, dated 15 July 2020
  3. Presenting Officer Application for a Virtual Hearing, dated 7 December 2020
  4. Appendix to Application
  5. Response from Teacher’s Representative, dated 9 December 2020
  6. Teacher’s Application for Privacy and Anonymity

Preliminary Matters

The Panel did not deal with any preliminary matters.

Applications

Virtual Hearing Application

An application dated 7 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.

  • Does the Teacher have any particular needs or vulnerabilities?

The Panel were not aware of any particular needs or vulnerabilities of the Teacher.

  • How will the Teacher and Representative, if any, communicate during the hearing?

The Panel did not have particular information about this factor but would understand that the Teacher and his Representative will make appropriate arrangements to communicate with each other during any virtual hearing.

  • The nature of the proceedings and issues to be determined at the hearing?

The proceedings will be a Fitness to Teach Full Hearing to determine allegations relating to the Teacher’s alleged conduct which may bear upon his fitness to teach. The Teacher admits the allegations. Stages two and three of the fitness to teach process will, if necessary, be determined.

  • The estimated length of the hearing?

The hearing is expected to last up to 3 days.

  • The extent and complexity of the issues in dispute?

The outstanding issues were not described as complex. They relate to the background to the allegations which relate to criminal behaviour in a domestic setting, the Teacher’s insight and the risk of repetition.

  • Will the hearing take place in public or (partly) in private?

By default the hearing would take place in public. However, the Panel are also required to determine an application by the Teacher for part of any hearing to be held 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 combined hearing bundle consists of 130 pages.

  • The nature of witnesses to give evidence at the hearing?

The Presenting Officer does not intend to lead any witness evidence. The Teacher is expected to give evidence.

  • How long is each witness estimated to give evidence for?

The Teacher’s evidence is expected to last up to half a day.

  • Do any of the witnesses have particular needs or vulnerabilities?

The Panel were not aware of any particular needs or vulnerabilities of any of the witnesses.

  • What confidence is there that each witness will be able to follow questions easily and any documents being referred to?

There is great confidence that the participants will be able to follow questions easily and any documents referred to.

  • How will witnesses be provided with hearing documentation?

The Teacher will have access to the hearing bundle in advance of the hearing.

  • Will all participants at the hearing have access to a suitable electronic device?

Yes, it is understood by the Panel that this will be the case.

  • Will all participants have a suitable internet connection capable of coping with the requirements of a virtual hearing?

Yes, it is understood by the Panel that this will be the case.

  • Will all participants have an appropriate location from where they can participate alone and undisturbed?

Yes. In addition, it is envisaged that GTCS and participants will perform checks in advance of any virtual hearing to ensure that such a hearing is at that time viable.

The Teacher consented to the application.

Privacy/Anonymity Application

The Teacher’s Representative submitted an application seeking the following: that the evidence in respect of the Teacher’s health be heard in private; that the evidence in respect of his private life and the private lives of [redacted] be heard in private; and that any details which could identify [redacted] anonymised.

The Teacher’s Representative submitted that health matters are sensitive, private and confidential. The private lives of [redacted] were likely to be presented at the hearing given the context of the allegations and should be heard in private. That context resulted in a concern that [redacted] could be identified in the Full Hearing decision and that details which could lead to their identification should be anonymised. The Teacher’s Representative referred to exceptions to the default position that exist.

The Presenting Officer acknowledged the restricted nature of the applications sought as opposed to blanket privacy and anonymisation applications. He also highlighted the exceptions to the default position that exist.

Decision

Virtual Hearing Application

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. In addition, the Panel observed that the Teacher consented to 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 the hearing to take place virtually.

Privacy/Anonymity Application

The Panel had careful regard to the application, the written submissions made by both parties and the supporting papers. The Panel also took account of the provisions within the Rules and guidance provided by GTCS practice statements, in particular the Privacy and Anonymity practice statement.

The Privacy and Anonymity practice statement states:

‘The default position set out in the Fitness to Teach Rules (the “Rules”) is that fitness to teach hearings are held in public. However, Panels have a discretion to make orders with a view to preventing or restricting the public disclosure of any aspect of proceedings where certain criteria are met …’

The Practice Statement sets out that the default position is influenced by the Human Rights Act 1988 and Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights. Further, by reference to Article 6, the practice statement identifies what may amount to circumstances that justify exceptions to the general rule. Potential reasons narrated include ‘where the interests of juveniles so require’ and ‘where the protection of the private life of the parties so require’. The Practice Statement continues: ‘Panels must be satisfied that there is a compelling reason for granting such an application [for anonymity] in order to protect an individual’s private life.’

The Panel noted the context of the allegations and the associated criminal proceedings. Those proceedings had resulted in the Teacher being convicted of assault and stalking aggravated by domestic abuse. The offences involved [redacted]. Inevitably, in the Panel’s view some evidence in relation to the Teacher’s private life and the private lives of [redacted] would be referred to in the fitness to teach proceedings in order to provide a necessary context. The Panel was satisfied that evidence was covered by the exception to the default position referred to above. In addition, the Panel considered that evidence about the Teacher’s health may be presented to provide context to his admitted conduct or bearing upon his fitness to teach. Again, the Panel viewed that evidence as falling into one of the categories of recognized exceptions to the default position about public hearings.

Accordingly, the Panel ordered that at the Full Hearing and within the written decision thereof:

  1. Evidence in respect of the Teacher’s health be heard in private;
  2. Evidence of the Teacher’s private life and the private lives of [redacted] be heard in private; and
  3. Details which could identify [redacted] be anonymised/redacted.

The Panel concluded, for the reasons set out above in the Teacher’s Representative’s submission, that there were compelling reasons in the particular circumstances of this case to justify making those orders.

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