The Parliamentary Ombudsman

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The Parliamentary Ombudsman

The Parliamentary Ombudsman


An ombudsman is an official, independent investigator of citizens' grievances against public agencies. Because the Swedish word ombud can be translated into English as representative, agent, or delegate, a lawyer, union leader, or member of parliament may be legitimately called an ombudsman in Sweden. But a particular ombudsman—the Swedish Parliament's Justitieombudsman, established in 1809—was the direct progenitor of the governmental officials of other countries given the name of ombudsman. In a prebureaucratic age, the legislature created the Justitieombudsman as its watchdog over the executive and as a rival to an older institution, the Justiekanzler, or the King's Chancellor of Justice. As the scope of government expanded in the democratic era, Parliament's ombudsman evolved into an institution mainly concerned with resolving citizens' grievances against bureaucratic agencies. Because the institution came to be perceived as effective in performing this function, which seemed to be increasingly important, in the second half of the twentieth century a number of ombudsmen were created around the world.

The Parliamentary Ombudsman: A Discussion

Leyland and Anthony (2008) mention the term ombudsperson (usually seen as ombudsman) is applied to a variety of complaint-handling and dispute-resolution mechanisms, dealing with a range of issues from human and civil rights matters to conflicts in the workplace. The classical form is the parliamentary ombudsperson. The parliamentary ombudsperson is elected by parliament to investigate complaints against public authorities on behalf of the citizens or on their own initiative. If the complaint is justified, the ombudsperson recommends the proper measures for redressing the wrong. The ombudsperson's recommendations can go beyond the specifics of a particular case and address the general working procedures and practices in place (Leyland and Anthony, 2008).

The institution of the parliamentary ombudsperson enhances the accountability and transparency of a state's administration. The institution provides for vertical and horizontal accountability of the public administration: vertical control through complaints filed by citizens, and horizontal control through reporting to parliament. In some countries, members of parliament, in addition to ordinary citizens, can file complaints (for example, France and the United Kingdom). The sphere of power of the parliamentary ombudsperson generally covers all of public administration, including in some cases the judiciary. Some countries—especially recently democratized countries—emphasize the role of the ombudsperson for protecting civil and human rights. The ombudsperson might even dispose of the power to initiate legal action based on the results of his inquiries (for example, in Sweden).

Origins and Proliferation

The parliamentary ombudsperson has its origins in Sweden, dating back to the period of authoritarian monarchy (1809). At that time, the ombudsman emerged as an instrument of parliamentary control over the executive. In the twentieth century, it has been transformed into a powerful instrument of citizens' control over public administration and the office can be held by women as well as men (Leyland and Anthony, 2008). The institution spread first to other Scandinavian countries (Finland 1919, Denmark 1955, Norway 1963) and then continued to be adopted around the globe. Today, the institution can be found on all inhabited continents and ...
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