One has some sympathy for Sharon Shoesmith, the former head of children’s services at Haringey Council who claimed she was unfairly sacked following the Baby P case. In the High Court today, Mr Justice Foskett dismissed her applications for judicial review against Ofsted, the Chidrens’ Secretary Ed Balls and the London Borough of Haringey.
In retrospect, Shoesmith would have been much better off in pursuing her claim before the employment tribunal in the normal way. Perhaps that’s what she’ll do now. Judicial review, as the judge indicated, should have been a last resort.
Perhaps what we are seeing is the local-government equivalent of cabinet ministers resigning for the failings of their officials (note to younger readers: this happened as recently as 1982, when Lord Carrington resigned as Foreign Secretary following the Falklands invasion; coincidentally, Carrington had offered to resign in 1954 when Sir Thomas Dugdale stood down over the Crichel Down affair, though Dugdale was not entirely blameless himself).
Shoesmith may take some satisfaction from the fact that Ofsted was found to have failed to disclose the necessary documents to her until after the main hearing. That should limit her exposure on costs. The last paragraph of the appendix to today’s judgment sums the matter up well:
It is difficult for me to determine where the true responsibility lies for the wholly inadequate way in which Ofsted’s duty of candour was addressed initially in this case. At the end of the day, it has to represent a collective failure that, frankly, shakes one’s confidence that the scope of the duty was fully understood by those involved. It appears now to have been rectified, but at some considerable cost, not merely financially, but by way of increasing the anxieties and pressures on the Claimant and delaying the outcome of a case that is of widespread interest. It should not have happened.
And all credit to the judge for handling delivery of the judgment so efficiently. He gave Shoesmith (and the defendants) advance copies so that they did not need to be in court for the formal hand-dowm. In fact, there were no lawyers in court at all and the delivery was more like a press briefing, albeit that there were no questions.
The judge provided a helpful written summary of his lengthy ruling and an even more helpful oral summary of his summary in court, complete with a text afterwards. It was all online within minutes. As Mr Justice Foskett said, a trifle ruefully, “I do hope that some commentators, at least, will take the trouble to read it in full”.