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The norm in fitness to practise proceedings (FTPP) is that where sanctions might be imposed procedural fairness requires a court-like hearing. This paper questions that paradigm, using empirical research to focus on the FTPP to which social workers must account. Procedural fairness is a multi-faceted legitimising concept used to justify the design of decision-making processes. With FTPPs, the major justification is an ‘instrumentally’ focused model of procedural fairness which prioritises making decisions that look right, a goal which is delivered in the context of social work. But other justifications for procedural fairness are inadequately fulfilled, with in particular a ‘dignitarian’ respect not achieved due to the high levels of non-attendance by registrant social workers. Further, procedural fairness as ‘public accountability’ is undermined due to the relative lack of engagement of FTPPs with the perspective of the social work community. These findings hint that in the context of a poorly organised and resource-poor profession other hybrid forms of FTPP might have a stronger claim to procedural fairness than the court-like model.
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