The transcripts of the official inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. More…

  • MR DAVID THOMAS (affirmed).

  • There are probably very many people named David Thomas, but again for the avoidance of all doubt, I have just realised that Mr Thomas and I have known each other for more years than I care to think about, although we have not seen each other for almost as many such years. I've got the correct Mr Thomas?

  • You have indeed, my Lord. We used to appear in Wirral Magistrates Court some 30 years ago.

  • There we go.

    First of all, please, your full name?

  • Thank you. Now, you provided us with a witness statement dated 5 July, which is quite short and tells us about yourself, but additionally there is a submission which was provided by the British and Irish Ombudsman Association dated 7 June 2012 to which you're going to speak; is that right?

  • And insofar as the matters are facts set out in that submission, do you attest to the truth of those matters?

  • First of all about yourself, you qualified as a solicitor in 1969 in England and Wales, and then in Ireland in 1991. In 1997 you were appointed as the banking ombudsman, being a principal ombudsman with the statutory Financial Ombudsman Service from its creation until you retired in 2012. You also have and had various part-time roles in relation to ombudsmanry, if I pronounce it right, and related matters; is that so?

  • You tell us there about the BIOA, the British and Irish Ombudsman Association. What is it, and what does it do?

  • This was a body which was established back in 1993 as the United Kingdom Ombudsman Association, changing its name a year later when its scope was extended to the Irish Republic.

    It has two classes of members. They were originally called full or voting members and associate members, but they have been retitled as ombudsman members and complaint handling members. There are 24 or 25 -- my statement said 25, when I tried to count it this morning, I got 24 -- ombudsman members of the scheme, and some 35 complaint handling members.

    The Association was created in order to protect the sort of reputation of ombudsmanry, and foster good complaint handling, and it contains ombudsman schemes that handle complaints against, for example, national governments, devolved governments, local government, police, financial services, businesses, lawyers, estate agents and some utilities, both here and in Ireland.

  • Thank you. Now, the term "ombudsman" is one which is quite familiar to lawyers, but it has a precise meaning which some people in this Inquiry, with respect to them, have abused.

    Could you please --

  • Certainly used differently.

  • I put it slightly high. But abused in the sense that they have used incorrectly.

    Could you tell us, please, in your own words the principal features of an ombudsman scheme in the United Kingdom?

  • Well, the principal features are that ombudsmen are there to resolve complaints. They are not in any sense regulators, and it's a mechanism which is typically used to resolve disputes between somebody small, ordinary people, as it were, and somebody big, either a large company or a large institution.

    Their processes are designed to be informal, and to redress the balance of resources and experience available to the small citizen or consumer on the one hand and the large institution or the large business on the other.

    They deploy a range of tools in order to deal with resolution of those disputes. So typically they will deal with inquiries, and indeed many things can be disposed of quickly and simply as inquiries, without turning into full complaints. But if they do turn into complaints, then maybe they can be resolved by mediation. If that fails, maybe a recommendation. But if all else fails, maybe by a formal decision.

    The process is a process of active investigation. So there's no concern that one party may have better resources or better representation than another, because the ombudsman controls the process.

    And --

  • We call that inquisitorial rather than --

  • Indeed. So it is, as your Lordship says, an inquisitorial approach. Ombudsmen also tend to view their role as going beyond dealing with the particular cases that they deal with, but drawing lessons, general lessons, and then feeding them out generally to government and public regulators and consumer bodies.

    Typically they are quicker and cheaper than an equivalent case would be in a court or tribunal.

    We tend in ombudsmanry to use the term unit cost, which is the total cost of the ombudsman scheme divided by the number of cases. Typically that would range between about GBP500 and about GBP2,000. That doesn't mean a case costs between GBP500 and GBP2,000. That's, as I say, the total costs. So you are throwing all of the enquiries and all of the outreach activities in for free, as it were.

  • If an ombudsman is working in a context or in a regime where there is also a regulator, does the ombudsman really as a matter of definition have to be independent of the regulator and, if so, what does that mean?

  • Well, certainly in the view of the Association they ought to be. And indeed usually that is the pattern. So if you see the situation which obtains here in the UK at the moment in relation to law, to financial services, to utilities and to property professionals, the ombudsmen are entirely separate from the regulatory body, whether that's a statutory regulator or a self-regulator.

    I think there are perhaps a number of reasons why one would go down this road. There's a concern that otherwise one might confuse sanction for breaking rules, which is a matter for the regulator, with redress for those adversely affected by the actions of the body, which is a matter for the ombudsman.

    It's very difficult to handle within the same body both sanction and redress with their differing standards of proof, the effect that it has on mediation in redress issues, if there is potentially a sanction, if somebody confesses that they have done or accepts for the purpose of resolution that they have done something wrong, and indeed entirely different skills are required for the different roles.

    So as far as the Association is concerned, they are not enthusiastic about the proposal that has been put forward by the -- on behalf of the industry, that complaints should be handled within the body that also handles the regulation.

    The fact that within that model the proposal is that it should be handled by two separate arms goes some way to recognising the points that I have made about the difference in function. But our view would be why not go the whole hog and separate them into an independent body for complaints? The arguments seem to us to be strong to have them separate, but we're not aware of any strong arguments why they need to be packaged together.

  • So if you have a complaints handling arm within a regulatory body, that entity should be called complaints handling arm or something similar, and shouldn't on your approach be called ombudsman?

  • Absolutely not. So there is a sort of a slight embarrassment about the situation in Ireland. I'm aware that you are receiving evidence about that tomorrow. There is an organisation in Ireland called the Press Ombudsman, a very distinguished gentleman, but the scheme itself is not recognised by the Association as an ombudsman scheme, it is recognised merely as a complaint handling scheme, because of the closeness of the relationship between the ombudsman and the Press Council.

  • One attribute of the system in Ireland, which may well have other virtues, which we'll address tomorrow, is that there's a right of appeal from the ombudsman in Ireland to the Press Council in Ireland?

  • Which again is anathema really to the proposal -- to the scheme that you are outlining to us?

  • Thank you. Now, in terms of different types of ombudsman, this is first of all page 2, 00310 of your submission. Very often they are public sector schemes, but we're concerned with a private sector scheme. In a private sector scheme, the complaints are going to come mainly from customers, but the press and media are somewhat of a special case because they may or may not be a customer who is going to be complaining of breach of privacy or defamation, whether that may or may not be the position.

    As you explain, in a press context, you'll be balancing the wider public interest against the private interests of individuals.

    But can you tell us, please, about the three different ways of establishing ombudsman schemes which is under the heading "Methods of establishment"?

  • Certainly. Just touching on your last point, I think likely the complainant will almost certainly not be a customer of the newspaper. Our public sector colleagues, of course, do have a role in weighing the public interest when they deal with complaints that they deal with.

    So far as private sector ombudsmen are concerned, they can be established in one of three ways. Either established by statute, the financial ombudsman, the legal ombudsman, for example, were established in that way. Or they can be underpinned by statute in the sense that the law requires that there be an ombudsman which satisfies various characteristics, but doesn't actually establish the ombudsman, and the industry or some other body is left to bring forward an ombudsman who meets those characteristics. Examples there are the property ombudsman and the energy ombudsman.

    Or an entirely voluntary scheme established by an industry or trade association, but with independent governance, of which the most recent example is the removals industry ombudsman, although the banking ombudsman scheme to which you referred earlier was originally a voluntary scheme.

  • So the voluntary scheme will typically be contractual, but the two other schemes will have some form of statutory underpinning or the entity itself will be created by statute?

  • And the detail of it is set out at pages 3 and 4 of the submission. It may not be necessary to look at the fine detail. We can just understand the concept for present purposes.

    Can I deal with the issue of complaint handling, which is page 5, 00313. Can you tell us typically how that works, whether it be a statutory scheme or a voluntary scheme or the intermediate underpinned by a statutory scheme?

  • Well, the first essential is that there should be a proper regime for the businesses themselves to handle complaints. It's right that people should take their concerns first to the business that is causing them that concern, and they should deal with it appropriately and promptly. And hopefully most difficulties will be resolved in that way, leaving only unresolved issues to be taken to the ombudsman.

    It may be that that -- at that early stage, maybe even before a complaint has been made, that an inquiry will be made to the ombudsman. Typical sorts of proportions. The ombudsman gets 75,000 enquiries, but handles 8,000 cases. The financial ombudsman gets more than 1 million inquiries, handles 250,000 cases.

    So quite a lot of stuff is headed off at an early stage, and obviously with minimal expense.

    Assuming the citizen is not satisfied with the response that they get, then it would come to the ombudsman scheme which would see whether it was a matter that was in their jurisdiction. They would also see whether actually there was some ground to bring it to a halt without taking it any further.

    So if, for example, it was clear that even if the ombudsman accepted every dot and comma of the complaint that had been made, the redress that the business had already offered would be bound to be sufficient, then the ombudsman wouldn't take it any further.

    Assuming that's not the position, then in many cases it's possible to resolve the matter by mediation, with the assistance of an independent third party view from the ombudsman scheme. Although if the parties are more entrenched or in the more complicated of cases, there may need to be an inquisitorial investigation, leading usually to a recommendation.

    Within most ombudsman schemes, there's usually a two stage approach. So you have a case handler with a variety of different fancy names who would conduct the investigation and would produce the recommendation, which in the majority of cases is accepted by both parties, but in a minority of cases, either party can say, no, I want this case looked at by the ombudsman. So the ombudsman actually acts as an internal appeal stage, rather than the first instance.

  • And in terms of the powers of the ombudsman, of course that's going to depend on what the statute says, or the rules say, but at the bottom of page 6 you explain that their power may often be a power to award compensation up to a ceiling; is that correct?

  • Indeed. So two powers qualified in a specific way. So to award compensation, but subject to a maximum ceiling for reasons which no doubt we'll get into in a moment. Or to require the business to do something in relation to the complainant, but it's something in relation to that complainant. So not something that they must do generally. Something to put it right for that particular person.

  • To what extent do you require a detailed knowledge and understanding of the operation of the business that you are seeking to act as an ombudsman in respect of?

  • It is helpful if the ombudsman goes out of his or her way to develop an understanding of these things. If I go back to the days when I was appointed as the banking ombudsman, coincidentally, by Sir David Calcutt, I was not a banking lawyer because it was considered it didn't look good to appoint a banking lawyer as the ombudsman, and I had to go out of my way to learn a lot and visit bank branches and look at the insides of cash machines to understand how they worked.

    It seems to me that one of the points that's been raised by the industry proposal is their suggestion it's necessary to have active editors involved in the process, because they know what's going on, which leaves aside the fact that an ombudsman who is specialising in this field can actually spend time to do that, and to acquaint themselves with the latest goings on and developments.

  • Yes. Is there a difference because in most fields you're either dealing with something that has gone wrong administratively, or in some way structurally, in the operation, whereas for the press the type of issue that's likely to come to any complaints handler, whether it's within the PCC or to an ombudsman, is a much more subjective or could be a much more subjective question of opinion and balance. Do you understand --

  • I understand absolutely the point your Lordship makes. I think it's fair to say that the majority of cases that come to ombudsmen are of sort of administrative failings, using that in a very, very, very broad sense. But equally, they can be failings of judgment. So if one looks in the field of financial services, for example, the ombudsman may be called upon to take a view as to whether the judgment -- whether the advice that somebody was given about the suitability of an investment was appropriate advice. So there are those elements of judgment.

    What's lacking of course is the wider judgment of balancing the interests of the individual against the wider public interest, although, as I said before, our public sector colleagues do have to take that into account in the work that they do.

  • One feature though of an ombudsman system is that the successful complainant, having been awarded a sum by the ombudsman, can say, no, I'm not going to take the compensation. I'm going to sue instead. Of course, if he or she takes the compensation, that's the end of it, presumably. But there's an option to start afresh in court proceedings. So one doesn't, as it were, sign away one's legal rights, if I have correctly understood?

  • Could you, as a matter of principle, have a system where you did sign away your rights, in other words the decision would be legally binding for all purposes, and you couldn't say, as the complainant, I don't like this decision, or I do like the decision but it's not enough money, and be prevented from going off to court?

  • So if you're postulating a position where the decision is automatically binding on the complainant, acres have been written on the effect of that and its compatibility with the Human Rights Act and various other things.

    The pensions ombudsman, who deals with occupational pensions, his decisions are binding on the complainant, and the financial services ombudsman in Ireland works obviously against the same background of European human rights law. His decisions are binding on the complainant. So this is theoretically possible. It's not a view that the Association would advocate.

  • Because the model under which an ombudsman works is broadly this, that the business is able to say to the dissatisfied citizen, look, we've told you we don't think your complaint is justified. But if you're not happy, you don't need to go to the newspapers or to your MP or whatever about it. You can go to the ombudsman it's free the ombudsman will investigate it, and look at it, and express his opinion, and if you don't accept the ombudsman's opinion, then at the end of the day you are still free to go to court.

    Now, that's a strength and a weakness of the system. The cards are stacked to a certain extent in favour of the consumer, but this is a model that was invented by the industry voluntarily originally. But because it is in that way, then it's very easy for the industry to bring complaints to a suitable close.

    The reality is that once the consumer gets to the end of the process, and has the ombudsman's decision, and given the risk of an adverse costs order, it would be a very brave consumer who then went off to court and it's not something that one normally hears of.

  • Thank you. Now, in terms of the ability to award compensation, we've spoken of a monetary limit. Obviously there's power to award financial compensation for financial loss, but in the sort of realm with which this Inquiry is concern, one would be awarding compensation -- we can see it here at page 7 -- for damage to reputation, possibly damages for distress and inconvenience, if one included that within a general damages award for damage to privacy.

    Funding, please, which is the next section. As funding of the system, it can either be a levy payable by all businesses covered by the scheme, or it can be case fees payable by the businesses or a combination of the two; is that correct?

  • In terms of the press, if one is going to conceive of a system which might be appropriate for our Inquiry, would you have a provisional view as to how it might be funded in terms of whether we would be going for the levy, for case fees or a mixture of the two?

  • I don't think the Association has a view on that at all. It's largely a matter of convenience. The key thing from the ombudsman's point of view is to ensure there are adequate resources. The way in which the resources are collected is less important.

  • Thank you. Accessibility next. That's page 8, 00316. That section is self-explanatory. It's obviously vitally important that the consumer, who would be the complainant, would know of the system and of the processes which need to be undertaken to gain access to it.

  • Indeed. And ombudsman seems to be quite a powerful brand which is it is comparatively easy to sell to the public, I think.

  • Accountability. Well, that's done by consultation and publication of a yearly report, as one might expect?

  • Can I ask you to elaborate on this section: "Relationship with any regulator". That's likely to be highly relevant to our consideration. How an ombudsman scheme would work in conjunction with a regulator, however that regulator is configured.

  • So I was postulating a situation where the ombudsman is focusing on redress, whilst the regulator is focusing on sanction. And there clearly needs to be a process by which there is a flow of information from the ombudsman to the regulator in order to inform the regulator's general view as to the behaviour of the industry, and indeed where sanctions need to be imposed.

    It's also helpful for there to be a flow of sort of non-business specific information about new and emerging trends, so that the regulator can be developing policies in order to deal with those as they go on.

    As we have indicated in the evidence, there are clearly some advantages to the ombudsman of being a statutory body, or being underpinned by statute, but there clearly would be risks, if the regulator were a self-regulatory body, to have an ombudsman who was underpinned by statute, because there would be inexorable pressure, I think, from the public if they were to be satisfied with the self-regulatory body to look to the ombudsman for that which the ombudsman could not in fact deliver.

  • Does it mean that there is a risk of duplication? Rather than talk about a regulator as being concerned with sanction, I'd rather talk about the regulator as being concerned with standards.

  • And I'm just concerned with the proposition that the ombudsman would require an investigative arm to look at the issues, as you have rather explained, and that the standards -- the regulator would require an investigative arm to look at possibly the same or equivalent issues, albeit through different eyes.

    Now, in financial services, which is an absolutely vast area, that may not matter. In banking, that may not matter. But in the rather smaller area of the press, that might be quite a serious disadvantage to requiring there to be a dual system.

  • Yes and no in the sense you are right there is a degree of duplication, because there may be certain issues which are being looked at from a redress point of view and from a potential sanction point of view. But they are being looked at in different ways; and what the ombudsman is looking at is not has somebody deliberately set out to do somebody harm. It's: have they done somebody harm in circumstances where the liability ought to fall on them, rather than the person who has been harmed?

    So it's a different quality of investigation. And it's perfectly possible during the course of the ombudsman investigation for the business on the receiving end to say, well, these are matters of judgment and now, with the wisdom of hindsight and looking at it very carefully, we can accept that perhaps we did get it wrong here and that we ought to provide some redress to this sort of person, which is an approach which is very difficult to take if at the same time they are accepting to somebody who is acting on behalf of the regulator that they have made a mistake.

  • Thank you. I pass over the section "Industry codes" because that's unlikely to be greatly material to us, but deal with section C of your submission which is page 10, 00318, issues that would be particular to a press or media ombudsman, potential complaints issues. The complaints that fall for consideration appear to cover broadly the following groups: various forms of redress after publication, harassment, improper acquisition, use of personal information pre-publication, and intervention in relation to harassment. We would also include, I suppose, breaches of privacy, but they may be included within personal information.

    The first issue which you discussed is relationship with the court. Could I ask you to elaborate on that issue, please?

  • Well, I think the key point there is contained in the earlier reference to setting some upper financial limit on the award that the ombudsman can make.

    The ombudsman procedure, as I have described it, is a more informal procedure, and one where the parties don't need to be represented and are usually not represented.

    If the ombudsman has power to award unlimited amounts, the pressure for the ombudsman to become very like a brother of the High Court becomes fairly inexorable. So one has to make a judgment, and set a compensation limit which is high enough to cover most ordinary people, but low enough to ensure there's not inexorable pressure that the ombudsman loses all of the advantages of being an ombudsman. So certainly on the basis of the Association 's submission, this is not a suggestion that the ombudsman would take up everything which now would go to court. Rather, it would take up many of the things which people might perhaps like to take to court, but are unable to take to court, and some of the things which do go to court.

  • So how would one determine which cases then go before the ombudsman and which cases go to court?

  • Well, the person who wished to bring the claim would have that choice. They would know that if they went to the ombudsman, the most that they could get was X, and they could go to the ombudsman knowing that that was all they could get, or they could go to court.

  • So it would be a voluntary system, but for most complaints, the complainant would take it up, either because of the nature of the complaint, or because they wouldn't have the resources in any event to go to court?

  • I understand. Relationship with the regulator. I mean, that may depend on whether the regulator is statutory or statutorily underpinned or a voluntary regulator. But could I ask you, please, to elaborate the points you are making in that section.

  • Well, in a sense I sort of foreshadowed some of what's written down in that section in something that I said before about problems if they are -- if the regulator and the ombudsman are of a sort of a different nature in terms that one is underpinned by statute and one is not. I think they need to be broadly of equivalent underlying structure.

    As far as the ombudsman was concerned, the ombudsman's role would be to provide appropriate redress for the person, if the case was upheld, for the person who had been badly treated, but that would not extend to anything punitive, and if it was felt that a sanction was necessary, particularly if there had been regular recurrence of a similar problem, then that would be reported to the regulator and would be for the regulator and not the ombudsman to deal with.

  • Thank you. Relationship with any rules, guidance or code of practice. Well, in our context, the ombudsman would presumably have to take into account the successor to the Editors' Code of Practice in deciding what were appropriate standards.

    The businesses covered, the issue here may be online businesses but one would have to be clear as to which were covered.

    Complainant eligibility. Are there any points there which you would like to draw to our attention?

  • It is common in ombudsman schemes to set out -- unlike with the courts, which are open to all, it's normal with an ombudsman scheme to say that these are the sort of people who can go to court, you normally cut out larger businesses or maybe all businesses altogether. There is clearly a question, it's not something the Association has a view on, but it's clearly a question for the Inquiry whether eligibility would be confined to those who wished to complain about a hurt that they had suffered themselves, or whether it would be open to representative complainants who are concerned about the way in which a group of people had been treated.

  • Basis of ombudsman decision. Very often the role of the ombudsman, particularly in the public sector, is to determine whether there's been maladministration, which is quite a broad concept. It doesn't just involve that which is contrary to the civil law. You make the point here that we have got to be careful to define what the media ombudsman might be doing. Presumably that entity would not be deciding the broad question of whether or not the newspapers acted fairly, but the more specific question of whether the newspaper has acted unethically, in breach of the code, or has invaded the private rights of the complainant; is that right?

  • Yes. I mean, they would be deciding whether the newspaper had acted rightly or wrongly in relation to the individual who was making the complaint. But clearly there is the problem that we referred to before, about balancing the private rights of the dissatisfied individual against the wider public interest, and clearly if an ombudsman were to be established in this area, it would be helpful to write something about that specifically into the terms of reference and the basis of decision.

  • Thank you. Issues of redress on the next page, this is page 13, 00321, are broadly self-explanatory. But the issue of intervention before publication may be trickier, particularly in the light of the evidence we heard from Sir Charles Gray.

    Can I ask you to consider this. Might there have been a role for the ombudsman to act in an advisory way in the context of intervention or pre-publication issues? In other words, if a newspaper were concerned as to whether or not to give notification to the target of an article before it's published, or that is going to be published, the newspaper can obtain advice from the ombudsman as to whether or not notification may be avoided for good public interest reasons. Do you see that as being the sort of role that the Press Ombudsman might be able to fulfil?

  • As the written evidence indicates, this would be fairly novel territory for ombudsmen, but in theory perfectly possible. Clearly it's a matter of judgment for the Inquiry as to whether it's desirable or not for there to be some facility for newspapers to get this sort of advice. But it seemed to the Association perfectly possible for the ombudsman to be a source of such advice. But of course it would be advice, and no more than that, and it would be something to be taken into account later, either by the ombudsman or by the court or indeed by the regulator, in deciding some subsequent complaint.

  • Yes. May I move forward to section D, which is your views on the proposal advanced by the PCC.

    I think you are looking at there -- when we're talking about what the PCC has proposed, it's a variant, I think, of an earlier incarnation of Lord Black's proposal. But it's basically a new voluntary regulator, with contractual underpinning, with two arms. One of the arms would be complaints and mediation. The other arm would be more traditional regulation. But you don't think that that's an appropriate model. Could you explain why you don't think that?

  • Okay. Well, the first issue is one that we've already discussed, which is the problems that are inherent in having redress and standards within the same body, whether that's a regulatory body or a statutory body or a self-regulatory body. So I refer back to the comments that I made on that before.

    Secondly, then there is the way in which the function is actually fulfilled. Lord Black's proposal refers to the adjudicators on the complaint committee. We passed over the constitution of an ombudsman scheme, but normally there would be a board, which might have a minority of industry representatives on it but a majority of public representatives. But they do not make any decisions in individual cases. It is their role to appoint the decision-makers.

    So I think there's -- the Association is very uncomfortable with the notion of this panel of people making the decision, especially when some of them are serving editors, which, as I said before, is perhaps to confuse the role of the expert witness and the judge, and it's perfectly possible for the decision-makers to be trained and familiarised with the latest developments in the particular area.

    There seems to be an element of ambiguity, on my reading of it at any rate, in the proposal about the role of the independent assessor, because there's a reference to the ability for a complainant to appeal to the independent assessor, and in one place it says the independent assessor can determine a different conclusion and refer back with reasoning. But there's another place, I think in the chart, where it sets out the overall structure, which rather implies the independent assessor is inviting these adjudicators to think again. So it's not an appeal in the true sense.

    So my own profession, the solicitors' profession, had many decades of trying to wrestle with these problems. The Law Society itself, first of all, dealt with consumer complaints. Then it reconstituted that bit as a thing called a solicitors' complaint bureau, and then it reconstituted that as the Legal Complaints Service. But it never worked out in the end, and we've ended up with a legal ombudsman.

    So far as the powers of the redress body are concerned, the proposed body would have power to fine in terms of breach -- or habitual breach of standards, but the highest level of redress that is available to the dissatisfied complainant is a critical adjudication.

    Given that the well-off can go to court and secure financial redress, it seems to be a shortcoming in the proposal that the less well-off, who feel that they cannot take the chance of going to court, can end up with no redress.

  • Thank you. Then you have some tentative suggestions for consideration. Can I ask you, please, to outline those, particularly in the context of the possibility of an ombudsman being within the new regulatory umbrella, if I can use a loose term?

  • Yes. The Association has put forward its views at two sorts of levels. So it can see the possibility of a role for an ombudsman as part of whatever new machinery emerges as a result of the Inquiry's work. But it doesn't pretend to have a view on the whole apparatus, and can quite see that the judgment as to whether there ought to be an ombudsman, and how the ombudsman would fit in, is something that has to be decided as part of looking at the overall fabric in which an ombudsman would operate.

    So to that extent the Association's views are tentative. The Association's views are far from tentative, however, when it comes to the characteristics that it would look for if an ombudsman were to be created, which in a sense brings us back to your opening question. The Association would be extremely unhappy to see something created which was called an ombudsman, but which was not in reality an ombudsman, and which did not have all of the characteristics which are set out in the Association's published criteria for ombudsman schemes which have been recognised also by the Cabinet Office.

    Then there's a list which I won't repeat, unless you wish me to, in bullet point term of how perhaps those principles would play out if the Inquiry were to recommend an ombudsman had some role as part of the apparatus.

  • These are the eight or nine bullet points halfway down page 15, 00393?

  • And on the next page, there's a lot more of them there?

  • They merely reflect the general principles --

  • -- that you have earlier outlined.

    So on this model, the ombudsman would be doing the work which it is properly designed and designated to do, but it would be independent from the regulatory body which would be carrying out its standard regulatory functions?

  • And each body could, I suppose, have a statutory underpinning or could be created by statute, depending on policy preference?

  • Or could be created voluntarily. All those are possibilities.

  • But if voluntarily, everybody has got to have signed up to it?

  • Indeed. It's perfectly possible, as with all of these other mechanisms, if they volunteer to join, to bind them. But getting them in is the difficulty.

  • The advantage of this model, provided one understands how it's got to work, namely its independence from the regulator, is the term "ombudsman" has a particular cachet with the public. It will win it immediately a degree of respectability -- it's more than that. People like it. People understand that ombudsmen do a good job in their areas of work. So that would be, as it were, immediately appealing to public confidence.

  • It's rather more than that, isn't it? It's because the public have an understanding of what ombudsmen do and the results they achieve, and if you try and call somebody an ombudsman that doesn't seek to do what you actually seek to do and does not therefore achieve what you seek to achieve, you risk damaging the concept which is very important in many different areas of our public life.

  • Thank you. Those are all the questions I have, Mr Thomas.

  • Is there anything you felt we've not covered, Mr Thomas?

  • (The hearing adjourned until Friday, 13 July 2012 at 10.00 am)