Ombudsman (from Swedish “representative”) is a specially elected (appointed) official who monitors the human rights situation in various administrative agencies. This term is of Scandinavian origin and means an official who receives complaints. Official job titles in different countries vary. The first Parliamentary ombudsman was instituted by the Riksdag of Sweden in 1809, according to the adopted constitution of the same year.
For a long time, the idea of an ombudsman has not been adopted in other jurisdictions, except for Sweden. However, over time the post of ombudsman was introduced in other Nordic countries, which followed the Swedish example. Finland did so in 1919, Norway – in 1952 and Denmark a year later. The first non-European country, which introduced an ombudsman, was New Zealand in 1962. Poland was the first socialist country, which introduced this position (in 1987). Nowadays, one hundred countries around the world have ombudsmen in office.
In contrast to prosecutors, ombudsmen investigate the cases not only from the standpoint of law, but also its effectiveness, feasibility, fairness, and justice. Officials of this kind have different names: the actual ombudsmen are employed in the Nordic countries; the Public Defender is the name of the same position in Spain and Colombia, an intermediary – in France, the lawyer of the people – in Romania. In the UK, there are three types of officials: the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administrative Affairs (The Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, PCA, established in 1967), Commissioner for Health (The Health Service Commissioners, HSC, since 1973) and the Commissioner for local administration (Commissioners for Local Administration, CLA, since 1976).
Ombudsman can be elected or appointed. In Spain, he is elected for five years by the Parliament; in Namibia – appointed by the President, in France – by the Council of Ministers. In most countries, any citizen may appeal directly to the ombudsman. In case neglect or abuse is detected, ombudsman indicates this to the required officials and asks them to fix the problem. If they refuse, he may appeal to the judiciary, or the Parliament. Ombudsmen do not only act on the complaints of citizens, but also on their own initiative.
By international standards, the number of cases investigated by the British ombudsmen is not significant. This fact is often taken as an indicator of high level of the British government administration. It can also be attributed to ignorance of the citizens, who do not know about the existence and role of the ombudsmen. The members of parliament do not encourage the appearance of alternative officials, who have public powers in the spheres, which they perceive as the area of their competence. So they diminish the importance of the ombudsman. A limited jurisdiction of the ombudsman also leads to the fact that many complaints are not even considered.