Article 54 of the Spanish constitution establishes the Office of the Ombudsman (Defensor del Pueblo) as a high commissioner’s office, whose holder is appointed by the legislature to respond to requests, and to protect and defend basic rights and public freedoms on behalf of all citizens. He or she is authorized to supervise the activities of the government and administration, expressly forbidding any arbitrariness. The ombudsman is elected by both houses of parliament for a five-year period (thus, not coinciding with the legislative term of four years) by a qualified majority of 3/5. The office is not subjected to any imperative mandate, does not receive instructions from any authority (including the parliament), and performs its functions autonomously. The officeholder enjoys immunity and inviolability during his or her time in the post. During the period under review, the ombudsman appeared several times in parliament.
The Ombudsman’s mandate covers all central government authorities, the autonomous regions (the Constitutional Court recently annulled an article of Catalonia’s 2006 statute of autonomy rejecting the capacity of the Spanish Ombudsman to monitor the Catalan autonomous government) as well as local governments. The Ombudsman is authorized to appeal before the Constitutional Court and may also initiate any habeas corpus proceeding. The ombuds office publishes annual reports for the parliament and “monographic reports” on particular themes, as well as recommendations regarding the public administration’s legal duties toward citizens. According to the last annual report, submitted to the parliament in October 2009, the Ombudsman handled nearly 25,000 complaint cases; most of them related to the functioning of the Spanish judiciary, the worrying growth of the prison population, some cases of alleged abuse by the police, the need for better protection of undocumented migrants, inefficiencies in education grants and scholarships, the bureaucratization of the health care system, the slow implementation of the Dependency Law, or errors detected in the levy of taxes.
The advocacy role of the Spanish Ombudsman is limited by several factors: (1) a lack of resources, (ii) inadequate collaboration on the part of some public administrative departments, and (iii) its incapacity to ensure that the administration complies with its recommendations.