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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 word ombudsman and its specific meaning, Swedish in origin, have 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.


[edit] Origins and etymology

The origin of the word is found in Old Norse umboðsmaðr <ref>Det Norske Akademi for Sprog og Litteratur/Kunnskapsforlaget: Norsk riksmålsordbok ISBN 82-573-0210-4</ref> and the word umbuds man, meaning representative and is non-gender specific. The first preserved use in Swedish. From 1552, it is also used in the other Scandinavian languages such as the Icelandic "umboðsmaður", the Norwegian "ombudsmann" and the Danish "ombudsmand".

The modern use of the term began 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.

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.

[edit] Politically correct denomination

Despite the etymology, Gender-neutral language is preferred by those who insist on politically correct parlance. In such cases ombudsman is replaced by ombuds officers, ombudsperson, ombudspeople or just ombuds. In case one is certain the ombuds is a woman, ombudswoman is also used.

[edit] Ombudsman in politics

In most contexts, "ombudsman" refers to a state official appointed to provide a check on government activity in the interests of the citizen, and to oversee the investigation of complaints of improper government activity against the citizen. If the ombudsman finds a complaint to be substantiated, he publishes a report to that effect. Further redress depends on the laws of the country concerned, but normally involves financial compensation. Ombudsman do not, however, tend to have the power to initiate legal proceedings or prosecution on the grounds of a complaint. This role is sometimes referred to as a "tribunitian" role, and has been traditionally fuflilled by elected representatives. (The term refers to the ancient Roman "tribunes of the people" (tribuni plebis), whose role was in theory similar to that of a modern ombudsman.)

In the UK there is little use of the recently introduced ombudsman system, the function of which is anyway particularly limited in scope and tends to be designed so as to appear independent while actually being recuited from the ranks of officials and rubber stamping official decisions. Citizens will normally pursue grievances against government through their local MP, or else through another MP or the courts.

In the USA, there is no ombudsman system at the federal level, although there is some limited use of the system in some states.

In Canada the office of the ombudsman is present in all departments of the federal government, as well as in many provincial and municipal governments.

The major advantage of an ombudsman is that she or he examines complaints from the outside of the state institutions that are being complained about. However, the system relies heavily on the selection of an appropriate individual for the office, and on the cooperation of at least some members of the state itself. Perhaps for this reason, outside Scandinavia, the introduction of ombudsmen has tended to produce somewhat less impressive results than initially hoped.

[edit] 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.

[edit] News ombudsman

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).

[edit] Legislative/Classical ombudsman

[edit] Sweden

  • The Swedish Parliamentary Ombudsmen

Governmental ombudsmen:

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

The word Ombudsman is the same in Swedish.

[edit] Australia

The Commonwealth Ombudsman in Australia was established in 1976. The Ombudsman can investigate complaints about the actions and decisions of Australian Government departments and agencies, the services delivered by most private contractors for the Australian Government, and oversee complaint investigations conducted by the Australian Federal Police. The Ombudsman can also investigate complaints about delays in processing Freedom of Information requests (FOI) and complaints about FOI charges. The Commonwealth Ombudsman is also the Defence Force Ombudsman, Immigration Ombudsman, Postal Industry Ombudsman, Taxation Ombudsman and through an arrangement with the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Government, the ACT Ombudsman.

[edit] Croatia

The Croatian Ombudsman is known as Pučki pravobranitelj, and was established by the Croatian Constitution in 1990. The Ombudsman is appointed by the Parliament, and has the task of ensuring that all government departments and officials follow the law.

There are also special ombudsmen for gender equality and ombudsmen for children, since 2003.

[edit] Czech Republic

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

[edit] Denmark

  • The Parliamentary Ombudsman (Folketingets Ombudsmand) was established in 1955
  • The Consumer Ombudsman (Forbrugerombudsmanden) was established in 1974

[edit] Estonia

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

[edit] 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 Nikiforos Diamandouros, former national ombudsman of Greece.

[edit] France

In France, since 1973, there is an Government appointed Ombudsman, the "Médiateur de la République". Currently Jean-Paul Delevoye is holding the office, for a single term that will elapse in 2010.

[edit] 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, data protection, 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.

[edit] 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, who 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.

[edit] 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.

[edit] 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.

[edit] Israel

The State Comptroller of Israel also serves, by law, as Ombudsman. She or 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.

[edit] Italy

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

[edit] Macedonia

Since 1997 Macedonia has an Ombudsman Institution named Naroden pravobranitel for protection of citizens rights. The Ombudsman is appointed by the Parliament. Work of his competence the Ombudsman performs on the base and in the frame of the Constitution and the Law on the Ombudsman.

[edit] 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. The Ombudsman has a very high level of power in New Zealand, and it is either a very brave - or very foolish - government department who attempts to flout an Ombudsman's rulings.

[edit] Norway

  • The Equality and Anti-Discrimination Ombud in Norway (Likestillings- og diskrimineringsombudet) 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.

[edit] 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.

[edit] Poland

The Polish Ombudsman is called the Rzecznik Praw Obywatelskich.

[edit] Portugal

The Portuguese Ombudsman is called the Provedor de Justiça (Justice Provider), 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 toll-free lines: one for children and one for senior citizens.

[edit] External links

[edit] Romania

The Romanian Ombudsman is known as Avocatul Poporului' (People's Advocate)and the institution exists in theory only.

[edit] 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:

[edit] Ukraine

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

[edit] 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.

[edit] 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.

[edit] 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 [ (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)

[edit] Shortcomings

The impartiality of some UK Ombudsman services has been questioned. In particular the Local Government Ombudsman - all three current Local Ombudsmen previously served as Chief Executives in Local Government and the Local Government Association played a part in their appointment - have been accused of bias and of merely acting as a rubber stamp. [3]

[edit] 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.

[edit] 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.

[edit] 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.

[edit] See also

[edit] References


[edit] External links

[edit] Classical/Legislative ombudsmen

[edit] Australian government ombudsmen

  • - 'Commonwealth Ombudsman Australia: Assisting the Australian community by resolving complaints and fostering good government administration'
  • - 'Ombudsman for the Northern Territory'
  • - New South Wales Ombudsman
  • - The Ombudsman South Australia Office: '[to provide] free, impartial, informal and timely resolution of complaints to promote fairness, openness and good public administration in South Australia'
  • ombudsman/home.html - Tasmanian Ombudsman: investigates complaints regarding public authority administrative action and contravention of state privacy legislation, conducts Freedom of Information reviews in respect of government agencies and can accept public interest disclosures (ie. whistleblowing complaints)and other miscellaneous functions (eg. auditing of police telephone interception warrants).

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman is a free and independent alternative dispute resolution scheme for small business and residential consumers in Australia who have a complaint about their telephone or Internet service. Established in 1993 by the Australian Federal Government, the TIO is independent of industry, the government and consumer organisations.

The TIO is authorised to investigate complaints about the provision or supply of telephone or Internet services. (information was supplied by the official website of the TIO)

[edit] Canadian government ombudsmen

  • - 'The New Brunswick Ombudsman's Office': one central mission: to ensure that all New Brunswick citizens are treated with administrative fairness by government and its agencies.
  • - 'Newfoundland and Labrador Citizens' Representative'
  • - 'Nova Scotia Office of the Ombudsman: If you feel you have been treated unfairly by a provincial or municipal government body, or you have a complaint about a Nova Scotia government service...'
  • - 'Ombudsman British Columbia: Promoting Fairness for British Columbians'
  • - 'Ombudsman Manitoba'
  • - 'Ombudsman Ontario - Ontario's Watchdog. Mission: to support the need for accontability, transparency and oversight in the provision of government services'
  • - 'Le Protecteur du Citoyen' (English language link)
  • - 'Office of the Yukon Ombudsman and Information & Privacy Commissioner'
  • - 'Ombudsman Saskatchewan'
  • - 'Alberta Ombudsman'
  • [4] - 'Ombudsman for the Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces'

[edit] Chilean ombudsman

[edit] Czech government ombudsman

[edit] European Parliament Ombudsman

[edit] Hong Kong government Ombudsman

[edit] Israeli Ombudsman

[edit] New Zealand government ombudsmen

[edit] Philippine government ombudsman

[edit] Swedish government ombudsmen

  • BO - Barnombudsmannen (Ombudsman for Children)
  • DO - Diskrimineringsombudsmannen (Ethnic Discrimination Ombudsman)
  • HomO - Ombudsmannen mot diskriminering på grund av sexuell läggning (Ombudsman against Discrimination on Grounds of Sexual Orientation)
  • JämO - Jämställdhetsombudsmannen (Equal Opportunities Ombudsman)
  • JO - Justitieombudsmannen (Parliamentary Ombudsmen: The Ombudsmen of Justice)
  • Konsumentverket/KO - Konsumentverket/Konsumentombudsmannen (The Swedish Consumer Agency/Consumer Ombudsman)'

[edit] Ukrainian government ombudsman

[edit] United Kingdom government ombudsmen

  • - 'The Financial Ombudsman Service: provides consumers with a free, independent service for resolving disputes with financial firms'
  • - 'Housing Ombudsman Service': An independent service dealing with complaints against landlords & agents, and other housing disputes'
  • - 'Independent Police Complaints Commission'
  • - 'Commissioner for Local Administration in England: Local Government Ombudsmen's Home Page'
  • - Northern Ireland Ombudsman's Office
  • - 'Office of the Legal Services Ombudsman'
  • - 'Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman: Making complaints a positive experience
  • - '(Irish) Office of the Ombudsman'
  • 'Local Government Ombudsman complaints body'
  • - 'Public Services Ombudsman for Wales'
  • - 'The Pensions Ombudsman: investigates and decides complaints and disputes about the way that pension schemes are run'
  • - 'Office of the Telecommunications Ombudsman: We are an Ombudsman Service for public communication providers and their customers'
  • - 'Scottish Public Services Ombudsman'

[edit] United States government ombudsmen

[edit] Non-governmental (organizational) ombudsmen

  • - 'Ombudsman for Estate Agents Scheme: A free, fair and independent service for buyers and sellers of residential property in the UK'

[edit] Ombudsman associations

  • - 'British and Irish Ombudsman Association' (BIOA)
  • - 'Organization of News Ombudsmen' (ONO)
  • - 'The International Ombudsman Association (IOA)
  • - 'The United States Ombudsman Association: Promoting and supporting fairness, accountability, and equity in government through the public sector ombudsman'
  • - 'The European Network of Ombudsmen in Higher Education' (ENOHE), Universiteit van Amsterdam
  • IOI - International Ombudsman Institute (IOI)
  • EOI - European Ombudsman Institute (EOI)

[edit] Ombudsman directories

cs:Ombudsman da:Ombudsmand de:Ombudsmann et:Ombudsman es:Defensor del Pueblo eo:Ombudsmano fr:Ombudsman hr:Pučki pravobranitelj it:Ombudsman he:נציבות תלונות הציבור lb:Ombudsman hu:Ombudsman nl:Ombudsman ja:オンブズマン no:Ombud pl:Ombudsman pt:Ombudsman sr:Омбудсман fi:Oikeusasiamies sv:Ombudsman tr:Ombudsman


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