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Senior civil servant wins employment case against the Commonwealth Secretariat

A senior civil servant, who was subjected to an aggressive press campaign to damage his reputation, has won his employment claim against the Commonwealth Secretariat

23 April 2018

A senior international civil servant, who was forced to resign his position with the Commonwealth Secretariat after he was blamed for leaking stories to the press, has won his claim for breach of contract following a specially convened employment tribunal in London.

Ram Venuprasad, who was represented at the tribunal by law firm Leigh Day and barrister Tom Coghlin QC, resigned from his position in October 2016 after serving with the Commonwealth Secretariat for 15 years, during which time he rose through the ranks of the organisation to serve as Deputy Head of Office under the previous Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Kamalesh Sharma.

Shortly after former Labour peer Baroness Patricia Scotland QC was selected for the position of Secretary-General in April 2016, Mr Venuprasad raised concerns internally and following appropriate reporting mechanisms, around high public fund expenditure and breaching protocols. These included the costly hiring of Baroness Scotland’s close political associate Lord Patel of Bradford as a consultant and two Special Advisors, as well as Baroness Scotland’s behaviour towards a Head of Government.

Mr Venuprasad (45) believes he was particularly "marked out" by Baroness Scotland after he raised concerns and provided appropriate advice over her decision to spend £50,000 on a garden party shortly after she had taken office.

When newspaper investigations began to emerge, which highlighted what was reported as extravagant and overzealous spending by the new Secretary-General, Mr Venuprasad said he was blamed for the leak and treated to a campaign of "intimidation and hostility" that included disciplining him for sending work emails to his personal account; a practice which he said was common place without any form of sanction against anyone else. Mr Venuprasad believes this was calculated campaign which he believes was designed to damage his reputation and damage him psychologically.

Mr Venuprasad denies in the strongest terms that he leaked any confidential information to the press.

A tribunal at Marlborough House, which was heard by a three‐member panel and presided over by David Goddard QC, ruled that disciplinary action taken against Mr Venuprasad was flawed and should be set aside, and that the terms of his employment contract were breached by the Commonwealth, including by suspending him and by making adverse statements against Mr Venuprasad in the media which were calculated to discredit him and harm his reputation.

During evidence at the tribunal the Commonwealth admitted they had authorised the aggressive press campaign against Mr Venuprasad’s reputation at the "highest level."

A number of defamatory statements were made about Mr Venuprasad in the press, referring to him as a ‘profoundly disaffected individual.’ His honesty was also questioned publically.

Mr Venuprasad will be awarded costs at a future hearing.

Speaking after the tribunal, which delivered its judgment last week, Mr Venuprasad said he delayed revealing the decision of the tribunal because he did not want it to distract from the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting that was taking place in London. He said:

"I respect the Commonwealth as a family, having spent a third of my life in its service, and its core values of honesty and fairness remain very close to my heart. Despite receiving the judgment last week, I did not want to speak publicly until the conclusion of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London, as I did not want my personal experience to cast a shadow over the Commonwealth events taking place."

Mr Venuprasad also stated his disappointment that Baroness Scotland did not appear at the tribunal despite the issues arising shortly after she was elected as Commonwealth Secretary-General.

"I would like to know why the Commonwealth Secretary‐General, unlike her predecessors in similar tribunal circumstances, chose not to come forward and provide evidence as a witness. This was despite the tribunal being set against a background of damaging statements and insinuations being made about me in the British media, including those by a former legal representative to the Commonwealth Secretary‐General.

Speaking of the difficulties he has faced since being forced to resign in 2016, he said:

"The last two years have been a harrowing time for me, both emotionally and financially, during which I have felt powerless, crushed and without a voice in the face of such public hostility from my former employer. I am thankful this very difficult period has now come to an end and I would like to thank my legal team from Leigh Day, together with my barristers Tom Coghlin QC and Tom Brown, for their support and guidance throughout this time.

"I am grateful to my family and friends, including several former colleagues, for their support. It is now time for me to move on and rebuild my career."

Solicitor Paula Lee, who represented Mr Venuprasad, said:

"All too often we see cases of senior individuals misusing internal disciplinary procedures for a collateral purpose. The harmful effect on the individual employee cannot be overstated.

"The aggravating and unusual feature in this case was the aggressive press line taken by the Commonwealth Secretariat against my client. I am so pleased that the panel agreed that contractual safeguards had been breached in Ram’s case."


STATEMENT BY MR RAM VENUPRASAD

FOLLOWING THE JUDGMENT

OF THE

COMMONWEALTH SECRETARIAT ARBITRAL TRIBUNAL

IN THE MATTER OF VENUPRASAD VS COMMONWEALTH SECRETARIAT

This statement has been issued by Ram Venuprasad (a former long standing, respected and senior official of the Commonwealth Secretariat) through his solicitors, Leigh Day, following the judgment of the Commonwealth Secretariat Arbitral Tribunal (CSAT) in the case of Venuprasad vs Commonwealth Secretariat. The case was made before CSAT to contest internal disciplinary decisions taken against Mr Venuprasad by the Commonwealth Secretariat.

I am issuing this statement given the media interest in the case that I brought against the Commonwealth Secretariat, which was heard by a three‐member tribunal, presided over by David Goddard QC on 3rd and 4th April 2018, at Marlborough House in central London, the headquarters of the Commonwealth.

I had little option but to seek legal counsel and representation and make an application to the tribunal concerning disciplinary and destructive personal accusations against me by the Commonwealth Secretariat as such – and individuals within it. This was done to ensure Commonwealth values of fairness, honesty and the rule of law were upheld at the very heart of the intergovernmental Commonwealth, which should embody such principles.

The judgment made by CSAT has, inter alia, upheld my application. CSAT set aside the disciplinary action taken against me by the Commonwealth Secretariat, ruling that it was flawed in a number of significant respects, and further ruled that the terms of my contract of employment were breached by the Commonwealth, including by making adverse statements against me to the media in a calculated attempt to discredit and harm my reputation. CSAT has ordered that I am entitled to compensation for the loss caused by the Commonwealth Secretariat’s breaches of its obligations towards me and also awarded costs in my favour.

I accept the judgment made by the tribunal. I also wish to draw attention to the fact the Commonwealth did not want to question me during the hearing. The Commonwealth Secretary‐General, unlike her predecessors in similar tribunal circumstances, chose not to come forward and provide evidence as a witness. This was despite the tribunal being set against a background of damaging statements and insinuations being made about me in the British media, including those by a former legal representative to the Commonwealth Secretary‐General.

The last two years have been a harrowing time for me, both emotionally and financially, during which I have felt powerless, crushed and without a voice in the face of such public hostility from my former employer. I am thankful this very difficult period has now come to an end. I would like to thank my legal team from Leigh Day, together with my barristers Tom Coghlin QC and Tom Brown, for their support and guidance throughout this time.

I am grateful to my family and friends, including several former colleagues, for their support during this very challenging period of my life. It is now time for me to move on and rebuild my career.

I respect the Commonwealth as a family, having spent a third of my life in its service, and the core values of honesty and fairness remain very close to my heart. Despite receiving the judgment last week, I did not want to speak publicly until the conclusion of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London, as I did not want my personal experience to cast a shadow over the Commonwealth events taking place.

Finally, I wish to state that when I return to the United Kingdom shortly, I will be available to speak with the media about any aspect of the Commonwealth Secretariat or the case in question.



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