Judges attempted to have pensions ombudsman Julian Farrand dismissed after he issued some "forthright criticisms" of their rulings.
But their attempts failed and Farrand received security of tenure when he was given a second term.
It is understood that the judiciary's attempt to remove Farrand was made when he came up for reappointment in 1999.
The motive for any such a move would have centred on the “comity of the judiciary” – the tradition that judges do not publicly criticise each other.
Farrand has regularly ruffled judicial feathers by exercising his remit to the full. Farrand confirmed reports of an attempt to oust him.
He said that according to the reports, judges complained to the Lord Chancellor’s Department that I had been writing rude things about them.
“The permanent secretary of The Lord Chancellor’s Department then went to the permanent secretary of the Department of Social Security and said ‘Don’t renew the ombudsman’.”
Farrand – who will talk on the future of the ombudsman’s office at the NAPF conference in Birmingham tomorrow – stressed that reports about the attempt to have his contract removed were “rumour” and that he did not believe them to be true.
But Robin Ellison - national head of pensions at law firm Eversheds - said: “It wouldn’t surprise me if words had been said to the Lord Chancellor. But I doubt they would have been asking for his dismissal. My guess would be that they would have been asking for him to tone down the nature of his criticisms.”
And Paul Newman of Wilberforce Chambers said that when Farrand negotiated a second term of office – which comes to a close at the end of August – he moved to cement his position by demanding that security of tenure be written into his contract.
Newman said: “Julian went and insisted on having a fixed-term contract and his term of extension included a security of tenure. This effectively meant that he couldn’t be dismissed at the will of the executive which might have been in contravention of the Human Rights Act 1998.”
On the issue of the comity of the judiciary, Farrand conceded that his criticisms have perhaps backfired and that a softly-softly approach would be more constructive.
He said: “It could well be that my forthright articles are counter-productive – if they object to that they can squash my determination, and they do. That’s what I think has been happening this year.”
The pension ombudsman has come under heavy criticism and possible envy from his detractors because of his unique ability to exercise jurisdiction under his wide statutory remit. At the Association of Pension Lawyers’ annual lecture last month Mr Justice Lightman said: “The ombudsman combines investigatory and judicial roles. This is very troubling.”
But Farrand defended his remit and said: “The inquisitorial role of the court directing investigations and also being judge is well-established everywhere except here in England. What Justice Lightman is saying is: ‘Only we in England do it right’. It’s a very insular view.”
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