Ombudsman

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The equivalent of Ombudsman varies in different countries. For example in some francophone countries, Ombudsman may translate to “Mediators of the Republic” while in Hispanic countries it is the “Defender of the people”. In Israel, it is the equivalent of the “Controller of the State”, “Defender of the citizens”, or “Parliamentary Ombudsman”. The field of skills of an Ombudsman lies in the administrative disputes within public or private areas. The recourse to an ombudsman is free.

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[edit] General Definition

An Ombudsman, independent and objective, investigates people's complaints against government agencies or other organizations, within both public and private sectors. After a deep and impartial examination, he determines if the complaint is justified and then proposes recommendations to the organization in order to resolve the problem.

In most contexts, the ombudsman refers to an official who is appointed to monitor the activity of the government in line with the interests of citizens, and to follow up the citizen's complaints against the State. If the ombudsman finds a justified complaint, he has to make a report and follow it up to resolve it. The ombudsman does not act in terms of justice. He holds his authority from the mandate that was given to him either by the President of the Republic or by an assembly of representatives, generally congressmen.

[edit] Origin of the Word and Etymology

The word Ombudsman has a Swedish origin and means the Spokesperson of Grievances or Man of Complaints.

Etymologically, the word ombudsman can be traced to a Celtic origin with the root word “ambactos” which means servant or messenger and can also be related to the French word “ambassade” and the English word “embassy”.

[edit] History

[edit] From the Righter of Wrongs to the Ombudsman

The idea of defending people against public or private institutions was not found in the nineteenth century and did not come from Sweden.

The supervision of government decisions had been the subject of a reflection among ancient Greeks, and also probably among Persians of which King Cyrus would have established a supervisor that would have been named 'Olho de Rei' (eye of the King).

In the Han Dynasty of China, the emperor was said to have appointed an official named "Yan" to deal with people's complaints concerning "administrative injustices".

In his dialogue Protagoras, Plato insisted on the necessity to monitor/check the decisions of the magistrates of the city. People of great virtue were chosen to ensure that decisions could be subjected to a review in order to redress mistakes. Appointed by the euthynoi, their role was to check the virtue and the respect of law of the leaders of the city.

Although we knew few about the magistrate's functions neither among the Greeks nor among the Romans, the texts demonstrated the existence of a Defensor civitatis until 368 when Valentinian I had changed their function into Defensor plebis -defender of the plebs- by a letter to the prefect of the Praetorian of Italy and Illyria, Petronius Probus. A defender of the people, chosen among former leaders, had to be appointed in each city.

With a related idea, Charles Martel (688 - 741) had instituted the Missi Dominici that existed until the tenth century. They could indeed be cited since their mission was to monitor the royal officers especially the counts, and to oversee the conduct and work of the clergy. They had to remind to officials their duties.

These concepts may seem similar; varying just because of a contemporary sensibility that could make us believe that there might be a historical link between these Defenders and actual Ombudsmen. But there is none. The interventions of these defenders mainly dealt with trade, taxes; and aimed at only moderating disagreements when they arose.

[edit] Tribune Plebis

In Rome in 493 BC., the patricians had to recognize the two tribunes of the plebs, like the two mirrors of the two consuls. There were 4 in 471 BC. and 10 in 457 BC. Their role was to help the plebs. However, according to the duties that were assigned to them, the tribune of the plebs was in fact more like a representative of the voice of the people who was allowed to officer up to the execution of a judgment.

To consider the tribunes as the precursors of the ombudsmen sounds more like an oratorical theory than a historical reality.

[edit] The Swedish Parliamentary Ombudsman

In Sweden, in the king's court, an officer used to receive the complaints addressed to the king concerning the power abuses or bad administrative practices.

By a constitutional reform of 1809, the legislative power named "Ständerna" appropriated the election of this officer, specifying that he would now be called the Parliamentary Ombudsman and would therefore benefit a total independence from the king, his government and his administration. This reform also emphasized that the Parliamentary Ombudsman must exercise his functions with a complete independence from the Parliament. The Ombudsman was born. (Jacob Söderman at the 25th Anniversary of the Ombudsman of the French Republic, Paris, February 5, 1998).

The current form of ombudsman finds its origins in the Swedish "Justitieombudsman" (ombudsman for justice) instituted in 1809. The institution has crossed the Swedish borders in the twentieth century and other Scandinavian countries have adopted it: Finland in 1919, Denmark in 1955 and Norway in 1962. The popularity of this institution increases since the early sixties and several Commonwealth countries, Europe and other nations have as well established this function. Among them are: New Zealand in 1962, the United Kingdom in 1967, most Canadian provinces in 1967, Tanzania in 1968, Israel in 1971, Puerto Rico in 1977, Australia in 1977 at the federal level and from 1972 to 1979 in its various states, France in 1973, Portugal in 1975, Austria in 1977, Spain and the Netherlands both in 1981.

This is a new function, appeared at the end of the nineteenth century and spreads in the late twentieth century. Historical researches that we can make refer to functions connected with the judicial system, from which the ombudsman is completely independent – and which makes precisely his originality.

Nevertheless here are below the statutes with which he can be wrongly assimilated.

[edit] International Ombudsmania

At the end of 2006, approximately 120 countries that have been claiming a democratic regime have instituted the function of the ombudsman.

After few years, the use of the Swedish word has spread to various activities. In addition to the public sector which abundantly develops this activity under the appellation of "mediator", private sector follows the same approach. But so far it still remains that the term ombudsman is mainly related to a "mediator" intervening within an institutional and administrative approach.

Mediation is considered as an effective way of relational regulation between users and administrations. Therefore a set of mediators has been established within administrations. In France for example:

  • The mediator of Commission of Bourse Operation in 1997;
  • The mediator of the Ministry of Economy, Finance and Industry in 2002;
  • The mediator of the universal postal service in 2002;
  • The mediator of the National Education in 1999 (Decree of December 1st, 1998).

[edit] Ombudsmediator

The concept of "ombudsmediator" is a neologism that combines the fundamental characteristics of the ombudsman and the parliamentary mediator. He highlights the crucial importance of the independence of this public function: independence from the authorities related to his jurisdiction, but also independence from the citizens - since the "ombudsmediator" is not a lawyer in the strictest sense of the word - and independence from all authorities to which the "ombudsmediator" makes accounts.

Indeed this is not because the "ombudsmediator" reports to the Presidency and/or the legislature and is useful to the people that they can interfere with his investigation or inquiry which must be both neutral and impartial. The "ombudsmediator" must be presented as a mechanism facilitating a better operation of practices of the Democracy and the State. It is an institution easily accessible, expeditious, credible, democratic, efficient, approved by the governments, non-coercive, non-partisan, inexpensive, reforming, flexible and original. In short, this function does not only reach the administration's expectations, but also those of the citizens. Daniel Jacoby, February 5-6, 1998. “The worldwide development of the ombudsmediator”, Symposium "Mediation: what future?” at the 25th anniversary of the Ombudsman of the Republic, Paris (France).

For example in the French public sector, the term ombudsman can be found, in addition to the documents of the Mediator of the Republic and his delegates, also in those of the Defender of the Children and those of the National Education (with a delegation of academic mediators).

In the private sector, more specifically, the "ombudsmen" only use the term "mediators", which is source of some confusion but that must be considered as a reality both semantic and societal.

[edit] Interventions

The ombudsmen are carriers of complaints of the citizens, users or consumers. Their independence is normally stronger than the one of the consumer’s service.

They usually appreciate the relevance of a claim. They often send a report and request the concerned department to resolve the case. In their annual report, they present recommendations for possible improvements regarding the quality of provisions of services or the relational quality with the claimants.

Ombudsmen's intervention implies the knowledge and practices of the functioning of the administrative wheel, first of all to be able to quickly identify the correct interlocutor.

Ombudsmen deal with the complaints from citizens regarding government agencies or private sector services. The ombudsmen intervene freely. Each arrangement of an ombudsman operates under varying rules. In general, an ombudsman retains a complaint if it has not been the subject of a procedure. If the ombudsman retains a complaint and decides to lead a research, a research report must be published. This report will normally emphasize the obviousness according to the ombudsman and make proposals in view to resolve the conflict. If a complaint is upheld, the ombudsman can expect that the concerned organization will provide an appropriate solution.

[edit] Notes and References

Forum of Canadian OmbudsmanWebsite of the International Ombudsman InstituteBritish and Irish Ombudsman Association

[edit] Internal Links of Ombudsmen

[edit] Also to Read

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