Pro Bono Week profile: Christine Cooper

04 November 2021

Please tell us about the pro bono work you did

I helped a couple clear their names and get damages after an unjust safeguarding inquiry. After nearly 10 years of being prevented from caring for individuals with disabilities, they can now apply to look after them again. The case was referred to me by Advocate in 2019.

The couple had been carers for three people with disabilities for more than 10 years. In 2011, the husband was accused of assaulting one of the people they cared for. However, at trial in 2012 the judge heard the informant’s evidence and found there was no case to answer.

Unfortunately, the local authority safeguarding inquiry was given some incorrect information and concluded on the balance of probabilities that the husband was guilty of assault.  It removed the couple from its register of approved carers and refused to change its safeguarding conclusion – even when provided with the trial transcript.

What impact did the pro bono work have on the people and communities you worked with?

Most importantly, the couple no longer have the cloud of unfounded allegations hanging over them.

With advice and guidance from me, they managed to settle their claim against the local authority.

The local authority:

  • corrected its records
  • brought the correction to the attention of each body who had been given information about the safeguarding inquiry
  • provided an open letter acknowledging that the previous information was incorrect
  • made a substantial payment to Advocate.

Did your pro bono work have an impact on your professional career? If so, in what ways?

Safeguarding investigations are a really important part of the work of social services departments and are vital to protect vulnerable adults from harm. However, the work I did on this case has made me really aware of the harm caused when the wrong conclusion is reached. As a result, I think that my local authority clients have benefitted from receiving balanced and objective advice on their own cases.

I also learned a lot about after the event insurance and how difficult it is to obtain.

Any final comments

This case goes to show what a difference pro bono advice can make. At a time when we desperately need more carers for vulnerable people, rigorous and just safeguarding inquiries are essential.

Not only was the safeguarding inquiry manifestly unfair. But after it, other local authorities rejected the couple as carers because the original local authority continued to refer to the incident in 2011 as ‘a nasty assault’ when asked.