Bindman battles DWP over ombudsman snub

Bindman & Partners (B&P) is to battle with the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), in the first judicial review case of its kind, on whether a minister can ignore decisions of a parliamentary ombudsman.

During the case, scheduled for three days in the High Court starting tomorrow (7 February), B&P’s instructed barristers Dinah Rose QC and Tom Hickman, both of Blackstone Chambers, will argue that the DWP minister should not have snubbed the ombudsman ruling on 14 March 2006 that the department had acted maladministratively.

The ombudsman ruling upheld complaints claiming that the DWP failed to warn pensions scheme members that they had only a 50 per cent chance of recovering their pensions if the sponsoring company became insolvent or wound up its scheme. This, however, the department ignored.

The case has ruffled feathers in the House of Commons which itself applied to intervene and make submissions to the court but, The Lawyer has been told, the Commons comments are not expected to support the Government.

John Halford, the lead solicitor from B&P, said that the case raises a fundamental constitutional issue – whether the government department is free “to snub” the ombudsman.

“Tens of thousands of people continue to suffer extreme financial hardship and the associated stress because they invested in pensions they believed were safe having been told as much by that very department [DWP]. That this case has to be brought at all is an absolute scandal,” Halford said.

Philip Sales QC and Daniel Stilitz, both of 11 King’s Bench Walk, will be acting for the DWP on the instruction of the department’s solicitors.

11KBW’s Clive Lewis QC, instructed by the Treasury solicitors, will be acting for the House of Commons on its intervention.