OCIMF in dock for ‘unlawfully’ removing SIRE inspector’s accreditation

Aug 23 2019

The Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF) was recently taken to task by the High Court in London for unlawfully removing the accreditation of one of its most experienced ship inspectors, Capt Arshad Rashid.

This case marked the first time a ship inspector had challenged an accreditation body.


In July, 2017, OCIMF started an internal investigation into the conduct of Capt Rashid and, following a disciplinary hearing, removed his 12 years’ accreditation in October, 2017. When his appeal was refused, Capt Rashid took OCIMF to court.


Capt Rashid was described as one of OCIMF’s most experienced inspectors, having conducted 1,103 inspections during his 12 years as an accredited inspector, never once receiving complaints about his work or practices, it was said.


OCIMF’s compliance manager, Capt Patrick McGroggan, pursued the investigation against Capt Rashid, in what appeared to Capt Rashid to be a personal vendetta. Initially, he levelled a number of highly damaging allegations that were entirely unfounded, including that Capt Rashid had coerced vessel crew to falsify log entries, and that he provided instructions on how to submit falsified reports.


All of these allegations were quickly dropped by OCIMF leaving only one allegation, namely that in four inspections, Capt Rashid misrepresented the time he had spent on board the vessel and that the time actually spent was not sufficient to conduct a proper inspection.


Following the original disciplinary hearing, which was supposed to consider the one existing allegation, OCIMF ruled that Capt Rashid had committed serious misconduct in other respects and removed his accreditation.


However, it became apparent that, not only had OCIMF made no determination on the actual allegation put forward, it had also based its decision to remove his accreditation on six wholly new allegations, which had not been put to Capt Rashid. This meant that he was not afforded the opportunity to defend himself and provide answers to the allegations.


After a two-year legal battle and a five-day trial in the High Court, led by Partner Josh Wong of specialist commercial litigation firm, Signature Litigation, instructing Matthew Parker of 3 Verulam Buildings as Counsel, Capt Rashid was finally vindicated by the High Court.


In a judgment handed down at the Royal Courts of Justice on 16th August, 2019, Mr Justice Martin Spencer’s attacked OCIMF by saying: "I have reached the firm conclusion that the process which led to the removal of Capt Rashid’s accreditation was deeply flawed, wholly unfair on him and a serious breach of the principles of fairness and natural justice .... I have no hesitation in declaring that the defendant acted unlawfully and in breach of contract..."


Both McGroggan and the Chair of the Disciplinary Committee, Tim Ashby, were criticised by the Judge.


McGroggan was criticised for falsely “creating a mist of suspicion...which potentially contaminated the Committee’s consideration”, while Ashby’s handling of the hearing and his approach to decision making was discredited as “distinctly troubling” and “fairly astonishing.”


The Judge also found that each of the six new allegations introduced by OCIMF were only minor errors, at the most, and could never amount to misconduct. He said, "no reasonable committee could possibly make a finding of misconduct based upon a simple error of this kind."


Commenting on the ruling, Capt Rashid said:“OCIMF has treated me in the most appalling way, and I hope that this Judgment will cause them to reassess their plainly deficient disciplinary procedure and begin treating its inspectors with respect. I look forward to putting this episode behind me and working constructively with OCIMF. I have always been proud to be a SIRE inspector and look forward to getting back to conducting inspections.”


“I had no choice but to challenge OCIMF because nothing is more important than the self-respect, dignity and integrity of an individual. I am thankful for the support of my family and my legal team throughout this very difficult time and grateful to the court for ensuring that justice has prevailed,” he stressed.


Josh Wong, Partner at Signature Litigation, commented:“We are delighted for our client that the Judge has found in his favour so comprehensively. The Judgment needs to be considered carefully by OCIMF and I hope it quickly changes the way it conducts its investigations and disciplinary processes against its hard-working and professional inspectors. If it does not, there are likely to be more inspectors who will challenge OCIMF's decisions.


“The case will also have significance in respect to how other accreditation bodies manage their relationships with their accredited professionals and I am sure they will be looking at the ruling with interest," he said.


In response, OCIMF said in a statement; “Naturally OCIMF is disappointed with the outcome of the Judgment. The Judgment criticised how the OCIMF tribunal reached its decision but did not re-try the issues which led to the tribunal’s decision to remove the SIRE accreditation from one of its inspectors. 


“OCIMF fully supports the individuals who ensure that accredited inspectors continue to operate to the highest professional standards. OCIMF is reviewing the Judgment with a view to lodging an appeal,” the statement said.


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