Lawyers acting for Adam Sampson, the former chief legal ombudsman, have written to the Office for Legal Complaints threatening action for defamation over a letter to MPs stating that Sampson was dismissed from his position.
The latest twist in the dispute between Sampson and his former employer came to light following the publication by the House of Commons justice committee of a letter from Steve Green, chair of the OLC attempting to dispel what it called ‘unhelpful confusion’ surrounding Sampson’s departure earlier this year.
The letter states that Sampson was ‘dismissed with notice, having appealed against his summary dismissal’. An appeal panel had concluded his original dismissal had been ‘unduly harsh’ and told Sampson he should 'continue to be employed... [until] your resignation comes into effect'.
Sampson has repeatedly insisted that he resigned of his own volition after controversy erupted over his expenses arrangements. In a letter dated the same day as Green’s letter, solicitors Bates Wells Braithwaite state that the statement ‘dismissed with notice’ is ‘completely untrue’.
Rather, it says: ‘Mr Sampson resigned on 17 November 2014 giving six months’ notice. It is not disputed that his employment was subsequently terminated summarily and that on appeal he was reinstated.’
It adds: ‘If the OLC continues to contend that Mr Sampson was dismissed, we will advise him to take proceedings against the OLC.’
The OLC told the Gazette today that it had not withdrawn Green’s letter.
The justice committee member who originally raised the issue of Sampson’s departure told the Gazette that the row raises questions about regulatory competence – including whether regulators are subject to a different set of rules to those they regulate.
Alberto Costa (pictured), a solicitor and Conservative MP, said that any review of the Legal Services Act must clarify what standards and rules apply to arm’s-length bodies created by the legislation. Justice secretary Michael Gove has already promised a review of the act by 2020, and there is speculation it could begin within months.
In his letter to the committee Green said some information about the issue should be kept confidential, but he could share a timeline of events.
He said the previous Ministry of Justice permanent secretary suspended Sampson as accounting officer of the OLC on 13 November last year, with Sampson announcing his resignation as chief ombudsman four days later.
Under the terms of his contract he was required to give six months’ notice. His accounting officer status was removed in January 2015 and following a disciplinary hearing on 23 February Sampson was dismissed without notice of a payment in lieu.
He appealed against that decision and a separate appeal panel, which met on 24 March, concluded that summary dismissal was unduly harsh.
Sampson said today: ‘Although the OLC is a lay organisation, it should observe some basic legal principles. What matters in my departure from my role is not what the OLC now says it intended to decide but what it actually said it had decided.’
Costa told the Gazette that he will raise the matter with colleagues on the committee and bodies such as the Law Society. Any committee inquiry into the Legal Services Act ‘will want to examine whether a different set of rules apply to those who regulate to those who are regulated’, said Costa.