Not social workers apparently. At least so says the British Association of Social Workers which offers representation from non-lawyers as a perk of its membership. Barristers (incorrectly referred to by BASW as solicitors) offering their services for free via FRU or the Bar Pro Bono Unit may not have the necessary expertise in social work practice and regulation to better their own service it seems from a piece in Community Care.
This view of course rather overlooks the fact that this is what barristers DO – take our legal training and advocacy and evidential skills and apply them to specific sets of facts or niche areas. It overlooks also of course the fact that many of the lawyers offering services via FRU and particularly the Bar Pro Bono Unit will have vast prior experience of tribunals of this kind or of social work practice (for example as care practitioners). And it overlooks the fact that it would be professional misconduct for a barrister to hold herself out as competent to handle a case if she were not equipped to do it justice.
On closer reading what this storm in a teacup appears to be about is the fact that the General Social Care Council are sending out material to those who are involved in conduct hearings relating to FRU and BPU representation but are not presently sending out equivalent material from the BASW. Of course there may be issues for the GSCC about appearing to endorse a particular union (and indeed conversely for the BASW in appearing as independent from the GSCC), but I can’t see any reasoned objection to sending a straightforward list of sources of representation available to social workers who are in hot water.
It’s unfortunate that in pursuing the broader marketing of its member services the BASW has seen it as necessary to run down the services offered by barristers for free. Whilst any representative dealing with a conduct hearing will need to understand something about social work practice, this is information which barristers are quite able to elicit from clients (or indeed from a supportive trade union), whereas the specific expertise of the bar qua lawyers should not be underestimated. If the BASW really wants to assert that the services offered by the bar are substandard or inferior to those it offers itself it should publish comparative success rates and make the point properly. At present this has the unfortunate impression of being more of a territorial spat than a demonstration of the BASW’s interest in ensuring that social workers are afforded proper representation from whatever source. A constructive approach would be for the BASW to offer to share its expertise in social work good practice to FRU and the Bar Pro Bono Unit by working collaboratively with them.