Article: Ombudsman

An ombudsman is an official, usually (but not always) appointed by the government or by parliament, who is charged with representing the interests of the public by investigating and addressing complaints reported by individual citizens. In some jurisdictions, the Ombudsman is referred to, at least officially, as the 'Parliamentary Commissioner' (e.g., the West Australian state Ombudsman). The term arose from its use in Sweden, with the Swedish Parliamentary Ombudsman instituted in 1809, to safeguard the rights of citizens by establishing a supervisory agency independent of the executive branch. The word ombudsman and its specific meaning has since been adopted in to English as well as other languages, and ombudsmen have been instituted by other governments and organizations such as the European Union.

An ombudsman need not be appointed by government; they may work for a corporation, a newspaper, an NGO, or even for the general public. Such an ombudsman obviously does not carry any governmental powers or sanction abilities.

Origins

The origin of the word is found in Old Norse and the word umbuds man, meaning representative. The first preserved use in Swedish.

A prototype of modern ombudsmen flourished in China during Qin Dynasty (221 BC), and in Korea during the Choseon Dynasty.[citation needed] The Romans also grappled with the problem, but it was the example of the second Muslim Caliph, Umar (634-644) and the concept of Qadi al-Qadat (developed in the Muslim world), which influenced the Swedish King, Charles XII. In 1713, fresh from self-exile in Turkey, Charles XII created the Office of Highest Ombudsman. The Scandinavians subsequently moulded the Office into its contemporary form.

Organizational ombudsmen

Main article: Organizational ombudsman

Many private companies, universities and government agencies also have an ombudsman (or an ombudsman department) which serve internal employees or other constituencies. These ombudsman roles are structured to function independently, by reporting to the board of directors, and do not serve any other role in the organization. Organizational ombudsmen are sometimes called "ombuds" or "ombuds officers" or "ombudsperson" or "ombud". They are beginning to appear around the world within organizations, sometimes as an alternative to anonymous hot lines, in countries where the latter are illegal or considered inappropriate.

Recently, since the 1960s, the profession has grown in the United States, particularly in corporations, universities and government agencies. This current model, sometimes referred to as an organizational ombudsman, works as a designated neutral party, one who is high ranking in an organization, but who is not considered management. Using an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) sensibility, an organizational ombudsman can provide options to whistleblowers or employees with ethics concerns, provide mediation for conflicts, track problem areas, and make recommendations for changes to policies or procedures in support of orderly systems change. One particularly important function is to pick up "new things" -- that is, issues new to the organization. This is particularly important if the "new thing" is "disruptive" in the sense of requiring the organization to review and possibly improve its policies, procedures and/or structures.

An organizational ombudsman who is holding to "standards of practice" in the US is neutral and visibly outside ordinary line and staff structures. An organizational ombudsman will practice informally (with no management decisionmaking power, and without accepting "notice" for the organization). An organizational ombudsman typically keeps no case records for an employer and keeps near absolute confidentiality. The only exception is where there appears to be an imminent risk of serious harm, and an ombudsman can see no responsible option other than breaking confidence -- but organizational ombuds programs report that they can almost always find "other responsible options," such as helping a visitor to make an anonymous report about whatever appears to be the problem. From 1552, it is also used in the other Scandinavian languages such as the Icelandic "umboðsmaður", the Norwegian "ombudsmann" and the Danish "ombudsmand".

News ombudsmen

Newspaper and media ombudsman offices are especially valuable for promoting journalistic integrity on behalf of readers, viewers and listeners. There is an international Organization of News Ombudsmen. The press in Sweden is self-regulated through the Public Press Ombudsman (Allmänhetens Pressombudsman) and the Swedish Press Council (Pressens Opinionsnämnd).

Debate over designation

There is some debate, if not resentment, amongst government or parliamentary appointed ombudsmen, whether it is appropriate for organizational internal grievance persons to use the title Ombudsman. Critics claim that organizations are abusing the term in order to create the impression that internal review will be independent and impartial. Critics have highlighted the fact that, although ombudsman institutions have arisen in many Western countries to effectively provide aggrieved citizens independent review of public authority decision making, organizational ombudsmen may not always have a comparable degree of independence to that of government appointed ombudsmen.

Legislative/Classical ombudsmen

Sweden

  • The Swedish Parliamentary Ombudsmen

Governmental ombudsmen:

  • Swedish Ombudsman for Equal Opportunities, or Jämställdhetsombudsmannen (JämO)
  • Swedish Ombudsman for Children, or Barnombudsmannen. Observes matters affecting the rights and interests of children and young people.
  • Swedish Disability Ombudsman, or Handikappombudsmannen. Monitors issues relating to the rights and interests of persons with disabilities.
  • Swedish Ombudsman against Discrimination on Grounds of Sexual Orientation, or Ombudsmannen mot diskriminering pÃ¥ grund av sexuell läggning (HomO)
  • Swedish Ombudsman against Ethnic Discrimination, or Ombudsmannen mot etnisk diskriminering

The Director-General of the Swedish Consumer Agency is also designated as a Consumer Ombudsman.

Czech Republic

The Czech Ombudsman is known as Veřejný ochránce práv (Public Defender of Rights).

Estonia

The Estonian ombudsman is known as Õiguskantsler (Chancellor of Justice [1]).

European Union

The European Ombudsman was established by the Maastricht treaty, the treaty establishing the European Union. The current European Ombudsman, holding office since April 1, 2003, is P. Nikiforos Diamandouros, former national ombudsman of Greece.

Finland

In Finland the office of Parliamentary Ombudsman, modelled after the Swedish Ombudsman, was established by the Constitution of 1919. The Ombudsman is appointed by the Parliament, and has the task of ensuring that all government departments and officials follow the law. The Parliamentary Ombudsman shares many duties with the Chancellor of Justice. The Ombudsman has wide ranging oversight and investigative powers. She or he has access to all government facilities, documents and information systems and can order a police investigation if necessary. If the Ombudsman determines that a government official has not acted in accordance with the law she or he can advice on the proper application of the law, reprimand the official or in the extreme case order the criminal prosecution of the official. Partly because of the prosecutorial powers the Ombudsman enjoys considerable respect and her or his legal opinions are usually strictly followed. Her or his legal interpretations carry a lot of weight in the absence of a court precedent.

There are also special ombudsmen for gender equality, children's welfare, rights of ethnic minorities, and consumer protection, operating under the auspices of various ministries and other government agencies. Also, every health care provider in Finland is legally obliged to have a patients' rights ombudsman.

Greece

The Greek Ombudsman is called the Citizen's Advocate and is an Independent Authority. Currently, the Citizen's Advocate is Professor Georgios Kaminis. The Advocate is assisted by five Assistant Advocates, which coordinate the activities of the Advocate's office in the five "theme circles" (areas) in which the office has authority: i) civil rights, ii) social protection, iii) quality of life, iv) state-citizen relationships and v) children's rights.

Iceland

The post of umboðsmaður Alþingis was set up in 1987 under the terms of law number 13/1987, which deals with complaints against the government. His authority was expanded to local government levels in the 1997 law number 85/1997. The Ombudsman is appointed by Alþingi.

Ireland

The Office of Ombudsman was set up under the terms of the Ombudsman Act, 1980. The Ombudsman is appointed by the President of Ireland upon the nomination of both Houses of the Oireachtas, and is a civil servant of the State. The Ombudsman deals with complaints against Departments of State, local authorities, health boards and An Post.

Israel

The State Comptroller of Israel also serves, by law, as Ombudsman. He discharges this function by way of a special unit in the Office of the State Comptroller, known as the Office of the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman investigates complaints against bodies that are statutorily subject to audit by the State Comptroller, including government ministries, local authorities, state enterprises and institutions and government companies, as well as their employees.

Italy

The Italian Ombusdman is known as Avvocato Generale dello Stato (Attorney General of the Republic).

New Zealand

The post of Ombudsman was established in New Zealand in 1962, with the aegis of investigation of complaints against government departments. In 1975 the post was expanded, with a Chief Ombudsman and several (number unspecified) of other ombudsmen. New Zealand also has a Banking Ombudsman; however, this a non-government industry group.

Norway

  • The Equality and Anti-Discrimination Ombud in Norway (Likestillings- og disrimineringsombudet) was established in 1978 as the Gender Equality Ombud (Likestillingsombudet), the first of its kind in the world. In 2006, the Ombud was reorganised to include discrimination in general. The Ombud's task is to enforce the Norwegian Gender Equality Act and the act relating to prohibition of discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, national origin, ancestry, skin colour, language, religious and ethical orientation (Discrimination Act). The Ombud shall also enforce the anti-discrimination regulations in the Working Environment Act. The mandate of the Ombud also include to actively promote equality for discriminated groups, and to develop new knowledge through documentation and monitoring.
  • The Parliamentary Ombudsman for Public Administration (Sivilombudsmannen) investigates complaints from citizens or may take up issues on own initiative complaints from citizens concerning injustice or maladministration from central government or local authorities.
  • Ombudsman for Children in Norway (Barneombudet) has statutory rights to protect children and their rights. Since 1981, the Ombudsman for Children in Norway has worked continuously to improve national and international legislation affecting children's welfare. Norway was the first country in the world to establish an ombudsman for children.
  • Norwegian Consumer Ombudsman (Forbrukerombudet) shall, in the interests of consumers, seek to prevent market abuses in conflict with the provisions stipulated in or pursuant to The Norwegian Marketing Control Act. The Consumer Ombudsman shall, acting on his own initiative or on the basis of communications from others, urge all businesspersons to conduct their activities in accordance with the provisions of the Marketing Control Act. The Consumer Ombudsman shall also ensure that the terms and conditions are not used in any way that may harm consumers and shall contribute to this end through negotiations with businesspersons or their organisations. The Consumer Ombudsman has received a lot of attention internationally since it has ruled that the iTunes music store's contract terms violates Norwegian consumer and marketing law.

Philippines

The Office of the Ombudsman of the Philippines is empowered by the 1987 Saligang Batas ng Pilipinas to safeguard the government and government-related institutions and corporations from corruption and dispense justice in the case of such offenses.

Poland

The Polish Ombudsman is called the Rzecznik Praw Obywatelskich.

Portugal

The Portuguese Ombudsman is called the Provedor de Justiça, and its role is defined in article 23 of the Constitution of Portugal:

1. Citizens may submit complaints against actions or omissions by the public authorities to the Ombudsman, who shall assess them without the power to take decisions and shall send the competent bodies such recommendations as may be necessary in order to prevent or make good any injustices.

2. The Ombudsman’s work shall be independent of any acts of grace or legal remedies provided for in this Constitution or the law.

3. The Ombudsman’s office shall be an independent body and the Assembly of the Republic shall appoint the Ombudsman for such time as the law may determine.

4. The bodies and agents of the Public Administration shall cooperate with the Ombudsman in the fulfilment of his mission.

Besides the traditional roles, there are two tool-free lines: one for children and one for senior citizens.

External links

  • Provedor de Justiça (in Portuguese)
  • File a complaint online

Romania

The Romanian Ombusdman is known as Avocatul Poporului' (People's Advocate).

Spain

The Spanish laws translate "ombudsman" as defensor del pueblo ("People's defender"). The Spanish Defensor can start processes at the Constitutional Court. There is a general Defensor del Pueblo for issues with the Spanish administration, and regional ones for the autonomous communities of Spain, for instance:

  • Defensor del Pueblo Español
  • Valedor do Pobo (Galicia)
  • Ararteko (Basque Country)
  • Justicia [2] (Aragon)
  • Síndic de Greuges (Catalonia)
  • Defensor del Pueblo Andaluz (Andalusia)

Ukraine

In the Ukraine a post of Ombudsman is held Nina Karpachova since 1998.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom a post of Ombudsman is attached to the Westminster Parliament with additional posts at the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and other government institutions.

About UK Ombudsman Services

The primary UK Ombudsman is known as the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, also known as the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration (PCA), which looks into complaints "that government departments, their agencies and some other public bodies in the UK - and the NHS in England - have not acted properly or fairly or have provided a poor service." The UK Ombudsman will usually investigate complaints where there has been evidence of "maladministration" having occurred which has resulted in an "unremedied injustice". Complaints to the Ombudsman are subject to a "time bar" - this means that the Ombudsman may determine a complaint to be out of jurisdiction if too much time has passed between the event or course of events being complained about and the complaint being received by the Ombudsman.

List of all Ombudsman Services in the United Kingdom

  • Estate Agents Ombudsman
  • Financial Ombudsman Service
  • Financial Services Ombudsman Scheme for the Isle of Man
  • Health Service Ombudsman - England (Ombudsman)
  • Housing Ombudsman Service (HOS)
  • Independent Police Complaints Commission
  • Legal Services Ombudsman
  • Local Government Ombudsman - England
  • Northern Ireland Ombudsman
  • Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman
  • Parliamentary Ombudsman (Ombudsman)
  • Pensions Ombudsman
  • Prisons and Probation Ombudsman
  • Public Services Ombudsman for Wales
  • Removals Industry Ombudsman Scheme
  • Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman
  • Scottish Public Services Ombudsman
  • Telecommunications Ombudsman (OTELO)

Shortcomings

The impartiality of some UK Ombudsman services has been questioned. In particular the Local Government Ombudsman - whose senior staff are recruited from the ranks of local government officials and whose appointment process is vetted by the Local Government Association - have been accused of bias and of merely acting as a rubber stamp. [3]

United States

The US Navy implemented an ombudsman program in 1970, under the direction of Admiral Elmo Zumwalt. Through the Navy Ombudsman Program, communication between the spouses of active duty personnel and the command is kept open, thereby improving the quality of life for everyone involved. The Navy command ombudsman is a volunteer position, with no special favors bestowed upon them. The purpose of this program is to ensure the dependents of active duty personnel have a channel of resources for their needs and quality of life. A command ombudsman can guide you to the help you may need, before, during or after a deployment. The Navy Ombudsman undergoes almost constant training, and is bound by confidentiality in most cases, the exception being any hint of child abuse. An ombudsman meets with department heads aboard a naval installation to find out the latest news, and pass it on, including news on ship deployments, cutting down on potentially harmful gossip.

New York City

The New York Public Advocate has an Ombudsman team that investigates and responds to telephone and written complaints/queries regarding city agency services, providing information and referrals.

Fictional ombudsmen

In the science fiction television series, Babylon 5, the arbiters aboard space station Babylon 5 who preside over cases stemming from public complaints are referred to as ombuds (this is both the singular and plural designation), the gender-neutral title for an ombudsman. Just as with their modern European counterparts, the ombuds only preside over public cases, including robbery, assault, and murder, and do not interpret law as a regular judiciary does.

See also

  • Administrative incompetence

Resources