In Sir William Wade’s Administrative Law, Seventh Edition, and the following observations appear at pages 74 and 75 in respect of the institution of Ombudsman:

The Ombudsman: tribune of the people.

Ombudsman is a Scandanavian word meaning officer or Commissioner. In its special sense it means a Commissioner who has the duty of investigating and reporting to Parliament on citizens’ complaints against the Government. An Ombudsman requires no legal powers except powers of inquiry. In particular, he is in no sense of Court of appeal and he cannot alter or reverse any government decision. His effectiveness derives entirely from his power to focus public and parliamentary attention upon citizens grievances. But publicity based on impartial inquiry is a powerful lever. Where a complaint is found to be justified, an Ombudsman can often persuade a Government department to modify a decision or pay compensation in cases where the complainant unaided would get no satisfaction. For the department knows that a public report will be made and that it will be unable to conceal the facts from Parliament and the press. The consciousness of the Ombudsman’s vigilance has a healthy effect on the whole administration, making it more sensitive to public opinion and to the demands of fairness.

The essence of the Ombudsman’s technique is to receive the complaint informally, to enter the government department, to speak to the officials and read the files, and to find out exactly who did what and why. No formal procedure is involved at any stage, nor is any legal sanction in question. The system can be adopted with short and simple legislation, or even merely administratively, and countries with written constitutions have no need to amend them. This ready adaptability is another of the reasons for the ombudsman’s world-wide appeal.

As his name implies, the ombudsman first appeared in Scandinavia. Sweden has had the institution, in a somewhat special form, for over a century and a half. But it was as established in Denmark after 1954 that it suddenly captured the attention of other countries, largely as a result of the missionary spirit of the first Danish ombudsman. The first British country to adopt it was New Sealand, which established an ombudsman (under that name) in 1962. His reports soon showed the success of the experiment, and a similar institution was proposed for Britain. Despite doubts whether so personal an institution would be practicable in a large country, and despite doctrinal objections based on ministerial responsibility, an ombudsman for the United Kingdom was instituted by the Parliamentary Commissioner Act, 1967.


Categories: CIVIL