Former Chief Legal Ombudsman Adam Sampson was dismissed with notice from his post, the Office for Legal Complaints (OLC) has now said – having previously indicated that he was not.
The OLC is the body that oversees the Legal Ombudsman and its chairman Steve Green admitted that “clearly” its first statement on the matter “was not helpful”.
However, Mr Sampson is maintaining his position that he resigned and served out his six-month notice period.
The OLC’s fullest explanation to date of the events surrounding Mr Sampson’s departure came in a letter last week from Mr Green to the chairman of the justice select committee, Bob Neill MP, which the committee published yesterday.
The confusion arose after a hearing the committee held a fortnight ago with the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Richard Heaton, who told the committee that he believed Mr Sampson had been dismissed with notice. Mr Sampson subsequently strongly contested this.
The OLC then initially confirmed that Mr Sampson had been dismissed following a disciplinary hearing.
This was replaced with a statement saying that Mr Sampson resigned in November 2014 giving six months’ notice. It continued: “A subsequent disciplinary hearing concluded that Mr Sampson should be dismissed without notice. Mr Sampson appealed. The appeal panel determined that dismissal without notice was too harsh a sanction, although they agreed that dismissal with notice would have been appropriate. Mr Sampson was therefore reinstated for the remainder of his notice period until his prior resignation took effect.”
This appeared to contradict what Mr Heaton had said, and the MoJ blamed the OLC for this.
In his letter to the committee, Mr Green wrote: “For the avoidance of doubt, I can confirm that Mr Sampson was dismissed with notice, having appealed against his summary dismissal. As he had already resigned, Mr Sampson remained employed until the notice he had already given expired on 17 May 2015.”
The confusion, he said, was caused by the appeal panel’s decision, which OLC staff now recognised “could be construed to mean either that the panel’s decision was to simply restore Mr Sampson’s entitlement to notice [following his dismissal], or to allow the resignation to stand”.
Mr Green continued: “Our problem was that the appeal panel members were no longer members of the OLC board [and] no staff had direct involvement in the final decision… It was therefore necessary for us to clarify first what the intention of the panel had been, and secondly what the legal position was. This took several days. In the meantime the OLC was under pressure to answer queries and therefore issued a statement that confined itself to what we were certain of.
“Clearly this was not helpful and gave the impression of a divergence of views between the MoJ and the OLC. The reality was that MoJ statements were entirely in accord with what they had been told and with what we have now confirmed to be the intention of the appeal panel.
“It is unfortunate that the combination of an ambiguous letter, a (rightly) confidential process and changes to the composition of our board, combined to compromise the OLC’s ability to give a clear answer when we needed to.”
Mr Green apologised for the delay in clarifying the situation.
In a letter that Mr Sampson is sending to the justice committee in response, he said that since he had already resigned by the time disciplinary action was even mooted, “the notion that I could subsequently properly be ‘dismissed with notice’ is meaningless”.
He quoted the OLC appeal panel’s letter that he “should continue to be employed, and serve [his] notice, until [his] resignation comes into effect on 17 May 2015”.
Mr Sampson said: “The OLC has said that the letter is unclear. I can conceive of nothing clearer than the above statement… The decision of the panel was sent out many months ago and there had been no suggestion from any party that it constituted a dismissal letter until the MoJ statement in evidence to your committee.
“While I sympathise with their desire to support the statement made by the new permanent secretary to your committee, OLC is not entitled to seek now to change the clear decision made by the appeal panel to achieve that end.”