Legislative Actors’ Resources

   

Does there exist an independent and effective ombuds office?

EUOECD
 
There exists an effective and independent ombuds office.
10
Austria
The Austrian Ombudsman Board (Volksanwaltschaft) has three chairpersons, with one nominated by each of the three largest party groups in parliament. Parliament is required by law to select these nominees. This prevents the ombuds office from being run solely by persons handpicked by the ruling majority. The Ombudsman Board is a parliamentary instrument and reports regularly to the legislature. The chairpersons are elected for a period of six years.
Denmark
In 1955, Denmark became the third country in the world, after Sweden and Finland, to introduce the institution of the ombudsman. The ombudsman is appointed by parliament and the office is an independent institution. Distinguished law professors have held the position of ombudsman, especially in the early years. Criticisms from the ombudsman normally lead to a change in practice or policy.

Citizens can complain to this office about decisions made by public authorities. The office, which had a staff of approximately 100 in 2014, can also initiate investigations on its own and visit other institutions. In 2017, 5,062 cases were concluded: 17.9% were rejected for formal reasons,17.7% were investigated, and 64.4% led to other forms of processing and assistance to citizens. Again, the largest number of complaints were about municipalities (1,568 cases) and the Ministry of Justice (718 cases), with only a few complaints about the Ministry of Immigration and Integration (186 cases).
Citations:
Henrik Zahle, Dansk forfatningsret 2.

Web site of the Danish Parliamentary Ombudsman: http://en.ombudsmanden.dk/ (re-accessed 8 October 2018).

Folketingets Ombudsmands Beretning 2017, http://beretning2017.ombudsmanden.dk/ (Accessed 8 October 2018)
Estonia
Estonia has a separate and independent legal chancellor who performs an ombuds function. The chancellor’s task is to ensure that legislation conforms with the constitution, and that the citizen’s fundamental rights and liberties are protected. Besides the constitutional review and ombudsman functions, the chancellor also fulfills the role of a national preventive mechanism for ill-treatment and an ombudsman for children. To raise an issue or forward a concern, citizens can submit a petition offline or online.
The current legal chancellor has called for politicians to address important public issues such as the comprehensiveness and readability of legal language, the equal treatment of citizens under digital government, the quality of social services, and the ill-treatment of patients in institutional care. However, while the legal chancellor can point out concerns, real intervention is only possible if the constitution has been violated.
Finland
Parliament has an ombudsman office consisting of one ombudsman and two deputy ombudsmen. Established in 1920, it is the second-oldest ombuds office in the world and employs about 60. The officeholders are appointed by parliament, but the office is expected to be impartial and independent of parliament. The office reports to parliament once a year. Citizens may bring complaints to the office regarding decisions by public authorities, public officials, and others who perform public duties (examples of authorities include courts of law, state offices, and municipal bodies). The number of complaints decided by the ombuds office in recent years has varied between 4,500 and 5,000 cases. However, in 2017, 6,415 cases were initiated, a 27% increase on 2016. A considerable number of matters have been investigated and resolved on the initiative of the ombudsman himself, who may conduct onsite investigations when needed.
Citations:
https://www.oikeusasiamies.fi/en/web/guest/the-parliamentary-ombudsman-of-finland
“The Parliamentary Ombudsman’s 2017 Annual Report presented to the Speaker of the Parliament”, https://www.oikeusasiamies.fi/en_GB/-/oikeusasiamies-luovutti-kertomuksensa-vuodelta-2017-eduskunnan-puhemiehelle
Iceland
The Parliamentary Ombudsman (Umboðsmaður Alþingis), established in 1997, investigates cases both on its own initiative and at the request of citizens and firms. It is independent, efficient, and generally well regarded. The office has 13 staff members, including six lawyers. In February 2018, Gallup reported that 52% of respondents expressed confidence in the Parliamentary Ombudsman compared with 29% confidence in parliament.
Citations:
The Parliamentary Ombudsman (Umboðsmaður Alþingis), http://www.umbodsmaduralthingis.is/category.aspx?catID=30. Accessed 21 December 2018.

Gallup, https://www.gallup.is/nidurstodur/thjodarpuls/traust-til-stofnana/. Accessed 21 December 2018.
Norway
Norway has a parliamentary ombudsman whose task is to investigate complaints from citizens concerning injustice, abuses or errors on the part of the central or local-government administrations. The ombudsman is also tasked with ensuring that human rights are respected, and can undertake independent investigations. Every year, this office submits a report to parliament about its activities. In general, the ombudsman is active and trusted.
Poland
The Polish ombuds office, the Commissioner for Citizens’ Rights, is an independent state organ and is accountable exclusively to the Sejm. It has substantial investigative powers, including the right to view relevant files or to contact the prosecutor general and to send any law to the Constitutional Court. Because of its strong engagement for citizens’ rights ever since its creation in 1987, the ombuds office has traditionally been accorded a good reputation. However, the effectiveness of the ombuds office has suffered, as the institution has been assigned new tasks in the field of anti-discrimination policy, but lacks sufficient new funds to perform the tasks properly.

The current Ombudsman Adam Bodnar, a lawyer appointed in September 2015, has become a very active defender of civil and political rights. He was responsible for appealing the Anti-Terror Law, as well as new laws on high-ranking civil servants, the Constitutional Court and the media to the Constitutional Court. He has also been fighting for the rights of his own office, since the Sejm passed a law in 2016 that makes it easier to remove the serving commissioner. In 2018, Bodnar fought with particular vigor against new anti-terror- and surveillance laws, and was later awarded the Rafto Prize for human rights work, awarded by the Norwegian Rafto Foundation.
Citations:
Grzelak, A. (2018): Choosing between two Evils: the Polish Ombudsman’s Dilemma, in: Verfassungsblog, May 6 (https://verfassungsblog.de/choosing-between-two-evils-the-polish-ombudsmans-dilemma/).
Sweden
It is fair to say that Sweden invented the ombudsman institution. Sweden currently has seven ombudsmen who focus on the following: legal matters, gender equality, consumer matters, discrimination, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, matters related to disability and matters related to children.

The ombudsman for legal matters (JO), which has been around the longest, is appointed by the parliament, while the government appoints the other ombudsmen. Some of them are their own agencies.

Assessing the effectiveness of the ombudsmen is a difficult task. Their mission is not only to follow up on complaints but also to form opinion in their area of jurisdiction. Their position in the political system and in society appears to be quite strong.
9
Australia
A Commonwealth Ombudsman was established in 1977. Its services are available to anyone who has a complaint about an Australian government agency that they have been unable to resolve. Its charter states that it will investigate complaints where appropriate, deal with complaints in an impartial and effective way, achieve fair outcomes, seek appropriate remedies and promote improved administration by Australian government agencies. Its services are free of charge. There are further ombudsmen in all six states and the Northern Territory, which operate on similar principles, as well as a variety of issue-specific ombudsmen.
Citations:
http://www.ombudsman.gov.au/

http://www.smh.com.au/business/consumer-affairs/private-health-insurance-ombudsman-turned-aggrieved-customers-back-to-medibank-20160622-gpovtk.html

https://www.smh.com.au/business/small-business/a-very-unusual-case-financial-ombudsman-service-s-failings-laid-bare-before-royal-commission-20180528-p4zhwo.html
Belgium
The independent federal ombuds office was established in 1995. The goal of the office is to have direct contact with citizens and inform them of the administrative process if need be and collect complaints against the administration. Parliament elects members of the ombuds office, but after their election, ombudsmen are totally independent and autonomous from government. The office makes a public report to parliament every year (6,892 complaints and information demands were addressed in 2015, in comparison with 7,018 in 2014). However, the ombudsman’s role is only informative and deals with facilitation or advocacy; it has no coercive power.

Some difficulties occur when a complaint touches upon an issue which concerns both federal and regional or community authorities. Regional authorities have their own ombuds offices, also established in the 1990s and early 2000s. Hence, some overlap occurs.
Citations:
http://www.federaalombudsman.be/homepage
Czechia
The Office of the Public Defender of Rights serves as a vital protector of civil rights. It delivers quarterly reports and annual reports on its activities to the Chamber of Deputies, including recommendations on where laws could be changed and report on not fulfilled recommendations. The office also annually evaluates the extent to which these recommendations were followed. It produces detailed reports on cases it investigates, indicating when laws have been transgressed to the extent that the damaged parties have a solid basis for seeking redress. In the last quarter of 2017 and the first three quarters of 2018, the office received about 8,254 complaints, of which 68.6% were within the defender´s mandate. Most complaints were related to social security, followed by construction permits and spatial planning, the prison system, the police and the army, the rights of children, youths and families. A new issue has been the application of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.
Greece
The ombuds office is one of the most well-organized public services in the country. The Greek ombud is appointed by a group of high-ranking parliamentarians and obliged to report to the parliament by submitting an annual report.

The ombud receives and processes complaints from citizens who are frequently caught in the web of the sprawling Greek bureaucracy. Depending on the complaint at hand, the ombuds office can intervene with the central, regional and local bureaucracy. The staff of the ombuds office can pressure the government to change existing legislation and also inform the prosecutor’s office of any uncovered criminal offenses committed by administrative employees and officials. The ombuds office remains popular with Greek citizens, who turn to it in the frequent instances when they are treated unfairly or improperly by public services.
Citations:
Information in English on the Greek “ombuds office” is available at https://www.synigoros.gr/?i=stp.en
Luxembourg
Since the launch of the Ombuds Office in May 2004, residents have sought guidance from this government office. The service is typically used more by foreigners rather than nationals. In 2017, the ombudsman dealt with 1,149 requests (compared to 743 in 2015). Similar to other ombuds offices, the ombudsman can issue recommendations to government and parliament, but cannot take issues to court. In addition, the ombudsman is responsible to the parliament.

Luxembourg nationals have plenty of recourse when problems with the government administration arise, but the situation is not as simple for foreigners. Even though the country’s labor market is the most transnational in the European Union, there are still numerous obstacles for Luxembourg migrants. Thus, the ombudsman has for years dealt with a number of migration issues.

Among the existing institutions that offer ombuds services (the Ombuds Office, the office for children’s rights, the office for equality rights (based on EU directives 2000/43 and 2000/78) and the Human Rights Commission), the Ombuds Office is best equipped in terms of budget and staff and is most frequently used. The office has a good track record of finding solutions to problems, has issued a number of recommendations and monitors the implementation of the office’s recommendations. Since 2017, the Ombudsman has been Claudia Monti.
Citations:
“WELCOME TO OMBUDSMAN.LU.” http://www.ombudsman.lu/index.php?page=accueil&lang=en. Accessed 23. Oct. 2018.
New Zealand
New Zealand was the fourth country in the world to establish an Office of the Ombudsman (in 1962). Ombudsmen are Officers of Parliament. Each Ombudsman is appointed by the governor-general on the recommendation of parliament. Ombudsmen are responsible to parliament and independent of the government. Their overall purpose is to investigate, review and inspect the administrative conduct of public sector agencies and provide advice and guidance in order to ensure people are treated fairly in New Zealand. The office is highly effective in terms of formally or informally resolving complaints. In 2017-2018, 11,468 complaints were received. Organizational reform has been under discussion for a number of years because of an ever-increasing caseload. In addition, there is an even older tradition of dealing with petitions in parliament.
Citations:
Office of the Ombudsman. 2018. Annual Report 2017/2018. http://www.ombudsman.parliament.nz/ckeditor_assets/attachments/686/Annual_Report_2017-18_-_FINAL_no_signature.pdf
 
There exists an effective and independent ombuds office, but its advocacy role is slightly limited.
8
Bulgaria
There is a national ombuds office (the Ombudsperson of the Republic of Bulgaria), which is not part of parliament, but is elected by parliament for five years. The Ombudsperson is independent in its activities and is subject only to the national constitution, laws and international treaties adopted by Bulgaria. Other than putting arguments to the relevant administrative body and making its opinion public, however, the office has no formal powers.

The ombuds office’s reports indicate an increase in the number of citizens contacting the office and the number of formal complaints filed with the office over recent years. The present Ombudsperson, Maya Manolova, has been much more active than her predecessors in addressing the parliament with legislative proposals and the Constitutional Court concerning constitutional interpretations of social rights.
Ireland
The Office of the Ombudsman investigates complaints about the administrative actions of government departments, the health service executive and local authorities. Ireland largely follows the Scandinavian ombudsman model. The ombudsman acts in the public interest as part of an overall system of checks and balances, as representing and protecting the people from any excess or unfairness on the part of government. The ombudsman reports to parliament at least twice a year.

Only twice in the 25-year history of the Office of the Ombudsman have its recommendations been rejected by government. In 2009, the ombudsman was invited to appear before the relevant parliamentary committee to explain her views on the matter. The fact that this sort of conflict has arisen so rarely, and when it did it attracted so much publicity, is evidence that the office generally operates effectively and has its findings accepted by parliament.

In addition to the main Office of the Ombudsman, there are separate ombudsmen for the national police force (the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC), financial services, children, insurance, the army, the press and pension issues. These offices are effective in listening to the concerns of citizens in their dealings with government agencies.
Israel
The State Comptroller also serves as the state ombudsman. Under this role, the office is authorized to investigate complaints raised by the public regarding ministries, local authorities, state institutions and government corporations. Citizens may file a complaint free of charge if they believe that they were directly or indirectly harmed by an act or an activity of the government; if an act is against the law, without lawful authority, or violates principles of good governance; or if an act is unduly strict or clearly unjust. The office is not obliged to investigate complaints against the president of the state; the Knesset, its committees, or its members, if the complaint refers to acts related to official duties; or a number of other similar issues.

The number of complaints submitted under this provision has risen every year. According to the State Ombudsman’s latest report in 2017, a total of 13,573 complaints were submitted to his office, of which 12,822 were within his authority to review. Also, as mentioned in the same report, in 2017 the State Ombudsman received a total of 15,157 complaints, of which 12,429 (82%) were viewed (i.e., they were in the State Ombudsman’s jurisdiction) and 43.8% were found justified after review (i.e., found justified by the State Ombudsman or the issue of complaint was rectified as the review was in progress).

The other body to be mentioned is the Commissioner for Soldiers’ Complaints. Though authorized to handle complaints regarding the IDF only, the authorization to submit a complaint is very wide. Furthermore, this institution expressed a degree of independence previously uncharacteristic of it, with the commissioner’s latest (and last for his term in office) report of 2017 he harshly criticized the IDF’s lack of readiness for a potential future armed conflict. In his latest report of 2017, the commissioner received 7,002 complaints (compared to 6,758 in the previous year), of which 59.08% were found justified.
Citations:
Comptroller and the Ombudsman official website: http://www.mevaker.gov.il/sites/Ombudsman/Pages/default.aspx?AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1 (Hebrew).

Israel. The Commissioner for Soldiers’ Complaints. Annual Report 46, 2017. Tel Aviv: The Security Ministry Press, 2018 (Hebrew): http://www.nakhal.idf.il/1073-he/Nakhal.aspx

Israel. The State Ombudsman. Annual Report 44 for the Year of 2017. June 18th, 2018. (Hebrew): http://www.mevaker.gov.il/he/Reports/Pages/633.aspx?entity=

Lev Ram, Tal. “The Commissioner for Soldiers’ Complaints to Liberman and Eizenkot: The IDF isn’t Ready for War.”
Ma’ariv Online. July 13th, 2018 (Hebrew): https://www.maariv.co.il/news/military/Article-661030.

Limor, Yoav. “‘The IDF is in Peak Preparedness, the Commissioner for Soldiers’ Complaints is Wrong.’” Israel Hayom. September 19th, 2018 Hebrew): https://www.israelhayom.co.il/article/588377.

Office of the Ombudsman brochure: http://www.mevaker.gov.il/he/Ombudsman/Guidecomplainant/Documents/ntz_english.pdf

“The Ombudsman yearly review number 43 for 2016,” The State comptroller Website (Hebrew), http://www.mevaker.gov.il/he/Reports/Pages/591.aspx

The State comptroller and Ombudsman of Israel. Website: State http://www.mevaker.gov.il/(X(1)S(5rxc1pa0jpc1qkpdphpupj5p))/En/Pages/default.aspx?AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1

Ziton, Yoav, and Yaron Drukman. “The Complaints Commissioner Warns of Deficiencies in the Readiness for War: ‘You Will Fall Off Your Feet from the Reports.’” In Ynet. June 25th, 2018 (Hebrew): https://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-5296079,00.html.

Ziton, Yoav. “The Outrage of the Harsh Report Over the IDF’s Readiness for War: ‘There were Negligence, Carelessness and Unacceptable Behaviour [lit. “Unworthy Culture”].” Ynet. September 26th, 2018 (Hebrew): https://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-5358401,00.html.
Lithuania
The parliament has several ombuds offices, including the general ombudsmen’s office, with two appointed ombudspersons, and the special ombudsman’s offices on Equal Opportunities and Children’s Rights. These institutions supervise state institutions, with a particular focus citizens’ human rights and freedoms. They engage in public advocacy on behalf of citizens, and initiate certain actions, but as a group the ombuds offices lack sufficient legal authority to act as a single national institution for human rights. In 2017, these offices became accredited by the United Nations as a national institution of human rights matching the Paris principles. The effectiveness of these ombuds offices has depended on the interplay of several factors. First, citizens have shown at best mixed interest in pursuing complaints through these offices, although the number of complaints remained high in recent years (the highest number of complaints, 1,805, was registered in 2014, with about half of complaints typically recognized as valid). Second, the offices adopted a more proactive attitude toward investigations, focusing on the most significant violations of human rights (e.g., in prisons and other detention facilities). Third, although most of the offices’ recommendations are implemented (up to 95%), some state and municipal institutions are sometimes unwilling to take adequate action in response to the recommendations.
Citations:
LR Seimo kontrolierių įstaiga, Lietuvos Respublikos Seimo kontrolierių – Nacionalinės žmogaus teisių institucijos – 2017 metų veiklos ataskaita, 2018.
Slovenia
In addition to the parliament’s Commission for Petitions, Human Rights and Equal Opportunities, there is an independent ombudsman, who is accountable exclusively to parliament. The ombudsman is elected by parliament for a term of six years and reports regularly to the legislature. The current ombudsman, Vlasta Nussdorfer, was elected in February 2013 with the broadest majority yet seen in the country’s short parliamentary history (82 out of 90 votes). She enjoys a good reputation and is quite effective in settling issues. Her annual reports focus on a wide variety of problems, above all problems with the judiciary, administrative issues and issues with limitations on personal freedom. As with previous ombudspersons, however, Nussdorfer’s role has been occasionally constrained by the lack of interest among members of parliament and ministerial inactivity. In addition, some members of the political opposition and non-parliamentary groups have criticized her lack of action taken in several publicly renowned cases.
Netherlands
The National Ombudsman is a “high council of state” on a par with the two houses of the States General, the Council of State and the Netherlands General Audit Chamber. Like the judiciary, the high councils of state are formally independent of the government. The National Ombudsman’s independence from the executive is increased by his/her appointment by the States General (specifically by the Second Chamber or Tweede Kamer). The appointment is for a term of six years, and reappointment is permitted. Recently, irked by the critical attitude of the former ombudsman, parliament made a series of stumbles, first by nominating a former interest-group leader to the post, who resigned after much public criticism; then 13 months passed before the present ombudsman, a renowned judge, formally took over. The National Ombudsman was established to give individual citizens an opportunity to file complaints about the practices of government before an independent and expert body. Where the government is concerned, it is important to note that the National Ombudsman’s decisions are not legally enforceable. The ombudsman publishes his or her conclusions in annual reports. The ombudsman’s tasks are shifting toward providing concrete and active assistance to citizens that – due to debts and poverty, digitalization and other problems with access to government regulation – have lost their way in the bureaucratic process. The national ombudsman is assisted by deputies tasked with addressing the problems of children and veterans.
Citations:
De Nationale Ombudsman, Mijn onbegrijpelijke overheid. Verslag van de Nationale ombudsman over 2012.

De Nationale Ombudsman, Persoonlijk…of niet? Digitaal…of niet? (jaarverslag.nationaleombudsman.nl, con sulted 6 Novermber 2014)

http://www.nationaleombudsman.nl/?gclid=CMPv8vGltrcCFclZ3godZH0AkQ

Jaarverslag Nationale Ombudsman, 2017, Tweede Kamer, vergaderjaar 2017-18, 34 890, nr. 2
UK
The system of ombudsmen has been expanded over the last years. There are now four different ombudsmen that handle complaints about the civil service in each country within the United Kingdom, namely the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, Northern Ireland Ombudsmen and Commission for Local Administration in England. Further, there is a Parliamentary Health and Service Ombudsman (PHSO) who mainly deals with complaints concerning the National Health Service in England and a Housing Ombudsman who looks at complaints about social housing. However, all ombudsmen’s offices are limited in staff, resources and access to information. For example, ombudsmen have no formal power to see cabinet papers.

A parliamentary consultation in 2015 recommended the merger of ombudsmen into one integrated office of the Public Service Ombudsman (PSO). A draft of that bill was published by the government in December 2016, and was examined by the Housing, Local Government and Communities Committee in an inquiry published in March 2017. It has not, however, come into force as yet.
Citations:
https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/public-service-ombudsman
7
France
Parliament has no ombuds office but plays a key role in the functioning of the (former) Ombudsman office. Until 2011, the médiateur (ombudsman) could intervene in cases of procedural faults and administrative problems at the request of individuals but only through the mediation of a parliamentarian. The purpose was to try to solve as many problems as possible through the intervention of elected representatives, and to ask the ombudsman to step in only if the issue could not be addressed or solved in a satisfactory way. In 2011, the office was merged with other independent authorities to form a new body (Le Défenseur des Droits). This new agency is active and respected having demonstrated its independence vis-à-vis the administration and government. However, it has not affected the role of parliamentarians in the process and they continue to channel citizens’ requests.
Germany
The standing parliamentary petitions committee is provided for by the Basic Law. As the “seismograph of sentiment” (annotation 2 Blickpunkt Bundestag 2010: 19; own translation), the committee deals with requests and complaints addressed to the Bundestag based on every person’s “right to address written requests or complaints to competent authorities and to the legislature” (Basic Law Art. 17). It is able to make recommendations as to whether the Bundestag should take action on particular matters. Nonetheless, its importance is limited and largely symbolic. However, the committee at least offers a parliamentary point of contact with citizens. In its 2017 report, published and debated in parliament in June 2018, the committee indicated that 11,507 petitions were submitted, an increase compared to the previous year. Two additional parliamentary ombudsmen are concerned with special requests and complaints made by patients and soldiers.
Citations:
file:///C:/Users/RB96BD~1/AppData/Local/Temp/Germany_Pet.%20Committee%20Bundestag_Annual%20Report_2017_DT.%20Committee%20Bundestag_Annual%20Report_2017_DT.pdf
Hungary
Hungary has an Ombudsman of Basic Human Rights, elected by parliament. Unlike its much-respected predecessor, the acting ombudsman, László Székely, has not served as a major check on the government and has not become an important public figure. The Ombudsman Office (AJBH) has been rather busy in small individual legal affairs, but it has not confronted the government about serious violations of civil and political rights.
Malta
The ombudsman is elected by a two-thirds majority of the House of Representatives and held in high esteem by the public. The appointment of three commissioners (on the environment and planning, health and education) to investigate complaints as well as the office’s wide-ranging powers to initiate inquiries considerably increased its standing as a watchdog for good governance. A secondary function of the ombudsman is to act as a catalyst for improving public administration. The ombudsman has stated that in pursuing these initiatives he has generally found collaboration from ministries, government departments and public authorities and that there have even been cases where public authorities have sought his advice. The Ombudsman Office, however, is not empowered to deal with human rights complaints and its recommendations are not binding. A recent clarification confirmed that the office has jurisdiction over complaints emanating from the armed forces of Malta. In his 2017 report, the ombudsman drew attention to the lack of jurisdiction his office has over privatized entities, particularly in the health and energy sectors, and the need for a remedy. He also drew attention to the problem of obtaining information from government on sensitive issues. The ombudsman recommended the office be granted constitutional protections and the appointment of a deputy ombudsman to strengthen the office and to extend the remit of the office to investigate the administrative actions, inactions, decisions and processes of public administration to further good governance.
Citations:
Aquilina, K. Strengthening the Ombudsman’s office. Times of Malta 14/08/12
On the Strengthening of the Ombudsman Institution: A Proposal by the Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman January 2014 Ombudsman.org.mt
The Parliamentary Ombudsman The Independent 27/11/2016
Ombudsman against making hos own recommendations enforceable by law The Independent 04/01/2016
Parliamentary Ombudsman Annual Report 2016
Portugal
There is a judicial ombudsman (Provedor de Justiça), which is situated in the judicial system. It serves as the advocate for citizens’ interests.
Slovakia
In addition to the Petitions and Complaints Office of the National Council, there is an independent ombudsman, the Public Defender of Rights, who is accountable exclusively to the Council. The Public Defender is elected by the Council for a term of five years and reports regularly to it. From March 2012 to March 2017, Jana Dubovcová, a former judge and one of the most vocal critics of the current state of the Slovak judiciary, took the position. Dubovcová adopted a quite proactive role with regard to anti-discrimination issues and was a vocal critic of unlawful detention cells and the excessive use of force by Slovak police officers in Roma settlements. However, most of her critique was ignored by the ruling majority in parliament and the government, as she was perceived as a “opposition” figure. In March 2017, when her term had expired, Dubovcová was succeeded by Mária Patakyová, a law professor at Comenius University in Bratislava nominated by Most-Híd. Like her predecessor, Patakyová has taken her advocacy role seriously. Despite fierce criticisms by the SNS, she has participated in the Pride Parada in Bratislava in August 2017 and has actively defended LGTBI rights. In 2018, she announced that she would focus on education rights and the right to compensation for Roma women subject to unlawful sterilization.
Spain
Article 54 of the constitution regulates the Office of the Ombudsperson (Defensor del Pueblo) as a high commissioner’s office whose holder is appointed by the parliament 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 ombudsperson is elected by both the Congress and the Senate for a five-year period (thus avoiding coinciding with the legislative term of four years) by a qualified majority of three-fifths. The office is not subjected to any imperative mandate, does not receive instructions from any authority, and performs its functions autonomously. The officeholder is granted immunity and inviolability during his or her time in the post.

Almost 75% of the recommendations made by Spain’s Ombudsperson are accepted by the public administration. However, its advocacy role is slightly limited by two factors: 1) a lack of resources, and 2) inadequate departmental collaboration. Since 2017, there has been only an acting ombudsperson, since political parties have been unable to agree on an appointee. Several autonomous regions also have their own ombuds offices.
Citations:
Ombuds office (2018), Informe 2017
https://www.defensordelpueblo.es/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Informe_anual_2017_vol.I.1_Gestion.pdf

El periodico (2018), El Defensor del Pueblo critica la presencia de lazos amarillos en edificios públicos https://www.elperiodico.com/es/politica/20180903/defensor-pueblo-lazos-amarillos-espacio-publico-7015671
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Canada
The federal government, unlike some provinces, does not have an organization called an ombuds office, but it does have certain organizations that are functional equivalents. These include the Access to Information Office and the office responsible for the protection of whistleblowers. However, the advocacy role of these organizations is limited. There are two ombuds offices with special mandates, the Office of the Ombudsman for the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces, and the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime. Other mechanisms that more informally fulfill an ombuds role include departmental units responsible for investigating appeals of decisions related to social programs such as employment insurance and pensions, and the offices of members of parliament, which frequently act as champions for the interests of individual constituents.
Croatia
The institution of the People’s Ombudsman was introduced with a special constitutional law in 1992, and the first ombudsman started his mandate in 1994. According to Article 2 of the Ombudsman’s Act, the Ombudsman is “a commissioner of the Croatian Parliament for the promotion and protection of human rights and freedoms laid down in the constitution, laws and international legal acts on human rights and freedoms accepted by the Republic of Croatia.” He or she is appointed by the Croatian parliament (Sabor) for a term of eight years and can be reappointed. In 2003, separate ombudspersons for children and gender equality were established. In 2008, an Ombudsperson for Persons with Disabilities followed. Croatia thus has a differentiated system of ombudspersons. In order to foster cooperation among them, a special agreement was signed by all ombudspersons in 2013.

In 2018, unlike in the previous year, the Sabor endorsed the annual reports of all ombudspersons. Lora Vidović, the current ombudsperson for human rights, made more than 200 recommendations for improving the enforcement of human rights. She listed five fundamental social problems that strongly affected the status of human rights in Croatia: poverty, lack of information about the rights, unequal access to the rights, lack of trust in institutions, and intolerance and lack of dialog. Notwithstanding the parliamentary endorsement, however, most government institutions do not react promptly to the Ombudsman’s requests, with requests often left pending for considerable time.
Mexico
During its process of political liberalization, Mexico established an ombudsman’s office in 1992. The office is generally respected, and the ombudsman can, and sometimes does, criticize government policy. In 2007, the ombudsman publicly advised President Calderón not to use the army in counter-narcotics activities. Calderón nevertheless sent troops in, which provoked an ongoing discussion on the army’s domestic tasks. More recently, the limited de facto power of the institution has become visible particularly in the field of domestic security (e.g., drug crime, human rights abuses). In short, while Mexico has an independent and respected ombudsman’s office, it is not necessarily powerful, particularly against the backdrop of an unprecedented spread of violence in recent years.
USA
Congress does not have an ombuds office, as such. Its members, who cultivate close ties with their state or district constituencies, effectively function as a collective ombuds office. Members of Congress each have several staff members who deal full-time with constituents’ requests for service. The total number of staffers engaged in constituency service is at least in the range of 2,000 to 3,000 individuals. A weakness of this arrangement is that it is somewhat informal and the coordination and management of staffers is left up to the individual congressional office. Government agencies do not suggest that clients encountering difficulties contact their senator or representative for assistance, and the constituency-service staff does not develop specialized expertise, except for the most common categories of request. In addition, because the acquisition of experience is massively disaggregated, without any systematic collation of information from the 535 congressional offices, congressional staff are less able to identify general policy or administration problems than an actual ombuds office would be. Congress retains this inefficient organization for dealing with citizens’ problems because it enables the legislators to gain individual political credit for providing services.
 
There exists an independent ombuds office, but its advocacy role is considerably limited.
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Japan
While there is no national-level (parliamentary) ombuds office as such, both houses of parliament handle petitions received through their committees on audit and administrative oversight. Citizens and organized groups also frequently submit petitions to individual parliamentarians.

An important petition mechanism is located in the Administrative Evaluation Bureau of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. The bureau runs an administrative counseling service with around 50 local field offices that can handle public complaints, with some 220 civil servants engaged in administrative counseling. In 2017, about 156,000 cases were addressed through this administrative counselling function. About 5,000 volunteer administrative counselors serve as go-betweens. A related mechanism is the Administrative Grievance Resolution Promotion Council, which includes non-governmental experts.
Citations:
Administrative Evaluation Bureau, News from Japan, accessed in November 2018 from Asian Ombudsman Association website http://asianombudsman.com/
South Korea
The South Korean parliament does not have an ombudsman office but the Ombuds Office of the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission of Korea (ACRC) may be seen as a functional equivalent to a parliamentary ombuds office. The Improper Solicitation and Graft Act, which was initiated by the ACRC, has had a huge impact in changing the culture. The commission’s independence is guaranteed by law, but the standing members of the commission are all appointed by the president. People can also petition the government directly without approaching the parliament or the ombudsman. A Foreign Investment Ombudsman (FIO) system hears complaints by foreign companies operating in Korea. The FIO is commissioned by the president on the recommendation of the Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy, via the deliberation of the Foreign Investment Committee. The FIO has the authority to request cooperation from the relevant administrative agencies and recommend the implementation of new policies to improve the foreign-investment promotion system. It can also carry out other tasks needed to assist foreign companies in resolving their grievances.
Citations:
Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission of Korea (ACRC), www.acrc.go.kr
Office of the Foreign Investment Ombudsman, ombudsman.kotra.or.kr
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Cyprus
In the absence of a relevant constitutional provision, an ombuds office was established by Law 3/1991 as the Office of the Commissioner for Administration and Human Rights. The president of the republic appoints the commissioner upon the recommendation of the Council of Ministers, subject to prior approval by the parliament. The commissioner presents an annual report to the president, with comments and recommendations. Copies of the report, investigative reports and activity reports are made available to the Council of Ministers and to the parliament.

Excluded from the commissioner’s oversight are the House of Representatives, the president of the republic, the Council of Ministers, ministers themselves, courts (including the Supreme Court) and other officials. More recently, politically motivated appointments to the office call into question the institution’s credibility.
Citations:
1. Parliament approves president’s choice for ombudsman position, Cyprus Mail, 31 March 2017, https://cyprus-mail.com/2017/03/31/parliament-approves-presidents-ombudsperson-appointment/
Turkey
A law establishing a Turkish ombudsman office, called the Public Monitoring Institution (KDK), was adopted in June 2012 and went into force in December 2012. The office is located within the Parliamentary Speaker’s Office, and is accountable to parliament. The ombudsman reviews lawsuits and administrative appeals (from the perspective of human rights and the rule of law) and ensures that the public administration is held accountable. In 2017, it received 17,131 new applications, almost three times as many as the annual average for the previous four years. It concluded 14,746 cases and adopted 422 full or partial recommendations. Overall, public administration has acted on about 65% of these recommendations, confirming a steady trend of increasingly adopting recommendations. According to the KDK itself, two main obstacles hamper the efficacy of its work. First, the degree of compliance with its decisions has been low, with only 20% of its released decisions having been obeyed by public administrative bodies. Second, under the current law, the KDK cannot conduct inquiries on its own initiative. Moreover, the mandate of the office does not cover administrative actions performed by military personnel. The Ombudsman has been active in raising awareness of the role. However, due to its limited authority to initiate investigations and intervene in cases with legal remedies, the Ombudsman remained silent on certain human rights issues, most notably on reported human rights violations in the southeast of Turkey. The Ombudsman’s limited powers reduce the institution’s effectiveness and contribution to the fields of human rights and good governance.

The Parliamentary Petition Committee reviews citizens’ petitions (a total of 6,055 in 2015) and refers them to the relevant authority, when appropriate. The Human Rights Investigation Commission has the authority to receive, investigate and review complaints on human-rights issues. The Commission on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men is entitled to review complaints regarding violations of gender equality.
Citations:
European Commission Turkey Report 2018, https://ec.europa.eu/…/sites/…/20180417-turkey-report.pdf, (accessed 27 October 2018)
T.C. Kamu Denetçiliği Kurumu 2017 Yıllık Rapor, https://www.ombudsman.gov.tr/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/2017-y%C4%B1ll%C4%B1k-rapor-SON-PDF.pdf (accessed 1 November 2018)
TBMM Dilekçe Komisyonu 24. Dönem Faaliyet Raporu, https://www.tbmm.gov.tr/komisyon/dilekce/docs/faaliyet_raporlari/24_yd_faaliyet_rapor.pdf (accessed 27 October 2015)
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Italy
Italy does not have a national ombuds office. Some functions are performed by regional ombudsman offices (difensore civico). Through questions and other oversight instruments, members of parliament perform with significant vigor an analogous advocate’s function with regard to issues and complaints raised by citizens.
Citations:
Russo, F. & M. Wiberg (2010). Parliamentary Questioning in 17 European parliaments: Some steps toward comparison. The Journal of Legislative Studies, vol. 16(2), pp. 215-232
Latvia
The parliament does not have its own ombuds office, but does have a committee for ethics and petitions. This committee fields all submissions from individuals and NGOs, including collective petitions which have reached the 10,000-signature threshold.

An independent ombuds office was created in 2007 following the reorganization of the Latvian National Human Rights Office. The ombuds office is charged with investigating citizens’ complaints, monitoring human rights and proposing governmental action to address systemic issues. Since 2011, the ombuds office has been active in monitoring social care facilities for the disabled, closed institutions, access-to-justice failings, issues of equal access to free education, and discrimination against women as well as raised public awareness on hate speech. In 2017, the ombuds office received 1,738 complaints, 45 of which were investigated. The ombuds office reports annually to parliament.
Citations:
1. Ombudsman of Latvia Annual report (2017) Available at (in Latvian): http://www.tiesibsargs.lv/uploads/content/lapas/tiesibsarga_2017_gada_zinojums_1520515340.pdf, Last assessed 02.01.2019
Romania
The Romanian Ombudsman was established in 1991 after the ratification of the country’s first post-communist constitution and is appointed by both chambers of parliament for a term of five years. The current Ombudsman is Victor Ciorbea, a former prime minister (1997-1998) and senator tainted by allegations that his legal practice has defended the interests of some notorious corrupt politicians. Nominated to the post in April 2014, Ciorbea has been criticized for ignoring the concerns of ordinary citizens and championing those of politicians. In October 2018, the National Liberal Party (PNL) cited formal reasons in calling for Ciorbea’s resignation –after he failed to delegate his duties while on holiday.
 
There does not exist an effective and independent ombuds office.
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Chile
The congress does not have a formal ombuds office. Efforts to establish such an office failed twice under previous governments. However, the National Congress and its members listen informally (but not systematically) to concerns expressed by citizens and public advocacy groups, inviting them to congressional hearings. In general terms, direct-democratic elements in Chile are quite weak.

However, the first public and autonomous Ombudsperson’s Office on a special issue was installed in 2018. In compliance with the act establishing the Office for the Defense of Children’s Rights (18 April 2018), the Senate of the Republic of Chile, at the proposal of the Senate’s Human Rights Commission, unanimously appointed the first Children’s Ombudsperson.
Citations:
Ombudsperson on Children’s Rights
http://www.ilo-defensordelpueblo.org/noticias-blog/236-chile-senado-de-la-republica-designa-la-primera-defensora-de-la-ni%C3%B1ez
Switzerland
There is no ombuds office at the federal level in Switzerland. However, some cantonal administrations do have an ombuds office.
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