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Comment on Sharon Shoesmith judgment

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The High Court handed down its decision at midday today (23rd April 2010) in Sharon Shoesmith's claim for judicial review of the decision to dismiss her. You can see thefull 200-page judgement or read the judge's 18-page summary.

In dismissing all of Sharon Shoesmith's claims, the judge made it clear that although there were several criticisms which could be made of the process leading to Sharon Shoesmith's dismissal, they were not serious enough to mean that OFSTED or the Secretary of State for Children Schools and Family had acted unfairly.

The judge was critical of the way in which the London Borough of Haringey took the decision to dismiss Sharon Shoesmith, but declined to make any ruling against Haringey, saying that the case would be better decided by a forthcoming employment tribunal hearing.

The judge was also very critical of Haringey's lack of process when dismissing Sharon Shoesmith. Although an employment tribunal is free to disagree, it is very likely to follow the judge's steer. However, unfair dismissal compensation from an employment tribunal is capped at £65,000, which is far less than Sharon Shoesmith has actually lost.

The judge criticised OFSTED for its failures to produce relevant documentation – especially the early drafts of its Report into Haringey Social Services – and has said he will be requiring an explanation from the Treasury Solicitor (the civil service’s chief legal officer). However, he did not think there was any real evidence that the report had been 'beefed-up'.

The judge also stated that Ed Balls was entitled to act quickly – he was entitled to view the interests of vulnerable children as taking priority over the employment rights of Sharon Shoesmith.

Finally, the judge ended his judgment by asking all parties to take at least 28 days to reflect over what they would do next. This is a clear steer that he thinks it is not in the public interest for Sharon Shoesmith to appeal, and perhaps not in the public interest for OFSTED and the DCSF to pursue Sharon Shoesmith for their legal costs.