The Ministry of Justice is seeking urgent clarification on the departure of former chief legal ombudsman Adam Sampson after its permanent secretary told MPs that Sampson was dismissed and did not resign.
Giving evidence to the House of Commons justice committee, Richard Heaton said Sampson (pictured) was ‘dismissed with notice’ last November after ‘irregularities’ were found with his expenses claims.
Speaking to the Gazette afterwards, Sampson vigorously denied this.
Heaton’s version appeared to contradict the line taken last November, when both Sampson and the Office for Legal Complaints stated that the ombudsman had resigned. Sampson confirmed then he had claimed expenses totalling around £20,000 for work trips to London from his office in Birmingham.
In a statement after the committee meeting, the MoJ said it had ‘consistently been led to believe’ by the OLC that Sampson was dismissed with notice.
‘We have contacted them for urgent clarification of their statement and understand they will write to the justice select committee to clarify the matter,’ it added.
The Conservative committee member who raised the issue, former solicitor Alberto Costa, told the Gazette: ‘As far as I’m concerned, they clearly said he was dismissed. I have asked them [the ministry] to clarify and I wait to hear from them.’
A Legal Ombudsman spokesperson told the Gazette: ‘Mr Sampson resigned in November 2014 giving six months’ notice. 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.’
Sampson said today: ‘My approach to my expenses was that agreed with the then board of the OLC, as was proper under the Legal Services Act and they had been audited and signed off by the National Audit Office for five years.
‘However, once it became clear that the then permanent secretary and new OLC chair took a different view, I immediately resigned and left the office in order to avoid the reputation of LeO suffering this sort of damage.
‘Having 11 months later been forced to intervene to correct one palpable falsehood, I am now presented with a new OLC interpretation of events which is equally misleading, particularly since the appeal panel found that I acted entirely in good faith, with no dishonesty and no attempt at concealment.
‘However, I have not been ombudsman for nearly a year and do not propose to get drawn further into an unfortunate session of “who said what” and “what ifs” between the OLC and the MoJ.’