UK pensions ombudsman Julian Farrand has defended his position after calls by a senior judge for the ombudsman's judicial role to be transferred to a Tribunal.
Speaking at an Association of Pensions Lawyers annual lecture Mr Justice Lightman said: “The Ombudsman combines investigatory and judicial roles. This is very troubling. This procedure is perfectly normal for an administrative but nor for a judicial body for it means not merely that the adjudicator receives privately relevant material through and from his officials but the procedure is calculated to enable him to sign off decisions effectively made by his staff.”
“On a number of occasions I have felt grave concern on appeals from the Ombudsman that the reference had been made to the wrong forum. At present the question which of the Ombudsman and the courts should determine a dispute is regarded as following mechanically the accident of which is earlier in time, the issue of proceedings or the making of the complaint.”
Justice Lightman also said that there was no alternative legal body to refer cases to in instances where the Ombudsman’s participation contravened European Conventions. “Under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights as applied in this country the parties are entitled to an oral hearing at which oral evidence is given and tested by cross-examination and each party is entitled to make an oral presentation of his case. The Ombudsman, not least because of his other duties, is ill-equipped to handle an increasing number of oral hearings.”
Farrand responded and said: “Lawyers who want a Tribunal aren’t going to get very far. Mr Justice Lightman’s criticisms were not well informed as to how the Pensions Ombudsman Office operates procedurally. It isn’t true that most people want an oral hearing and many complainants do not want respondents present when evidence is given.”
Farrand added that a quinquennial review into the workings of the Ombudsman’s office published last year had considered and rejected the idea of an alternative Tribunal.
But Farrand did feel that there would be “inevitable movement” towards a merger with Financial Ombudsman Service, which ultimately comes under the jurisdiction of the Treasury.
A Treasury spokesman said: “There are currently no plans to merge the Ombudsman’s office with the Financial Ombudsman Service.”
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