The origins of the Ombudsman Institution
The Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsmen was established in connection with the adoption of the Instrument of Government that came into force after the deposition of the King in 1809. With the autocratic rule of King Gustaf III fresh in mind, the legislators introduced into the new constitution a system that would allow the Riksdag some control over the exercise of executive power. The Standing Committee on the Constitution was therefore charged with the task of supervising the actions of ministers and with ensuring the election of a special Parliamentary Ombudsman to monitor the compliance of public authorities with the law. The Riksdag Act of 1810 contained provisions concerning the Auditors elected by the Riksdag to scrutinise the doings of the civil service, the Bank of Sweden and the National Debt Office.
The idea of creating some organ answerable to the Riksdag that could monitor the way in which the authorities complied with the law was not a new one in 1809. In fact, in 1713 the absolute monarch Charles XII had created the office of His Majesty’s Supreme Ombudsman. At that time King Charles XII was in Turkey and had been abroad for almost 13 years. In his absence his administration in Sweden had fallen into disarray. He therefore established the Supreme Ombudsman to be his pre-eminent representative in Sweden. The task entrusted to him was to ensure that judges and public official in general acted in accordance with the laws in force and discharged their duties satisfactorily in other respects. If the Ombudsman found that this was not the case, he was empowered to initiate legal proceedings against them for dereliction of their duties. In 1719 the Supreme Ombudsman was given the title of Chancellor of Justice (Justitiekanslern). This office still exists, and today the Chancellor of Justice acts as the government’s Ombudsman.
According to the 1809 Instrument of Government, power was to be divided between the King and the Riksdag. The King was to appoint the Chancellor of Justice (in other words he was the royal Ombudsman) and the Riksdag was to appoint its own Parliamentary Ombudsman. The main purpose of the establishment of this new post as Ombudsman (Parliamentary Ombudsman) was to safeguard the rights of citizens by establishing a supervisory agency that was completely independent of the executive. However, it seemed quite natural to model this new office on that of the Chancellor of Justice. Like the Chancellor of Justice, therefore, the Ombudsman was to be a prosecutor whose task was to supervise the application of the laws by judges and civil servants. In the words of the 1809 Instrument of Government, the Riksdag was to appoint a man “known for his knowledge of the law and exemplary probity” as Parliamentary Ombudsman. In other words his duties were to focus on protection of the rights of citizens. For instance the Parliamentary Ombudsman was to encourage uniform application of the law and indicate legislative obscurities. His work was to take the form of inspections and inquiries into complaints. Complaints played a relatively insignificant role to begin with. During the first century of the existence of the Office, the total number of complaints amounted to around 8,000.
(Source: http://www.jo.se/ – The Parliamentary Ombudsmen of Sweden)
The Ombudsman Institution in the World
The next Parliamentary Ombudsman was established in Finland by the Constitution of 1919. The idea attracted attention outside Scandinavia, after the establishment of the Ombudsman Institution in Denmark in 1954. After 1960, the concept of Ombudsman spread rapidly, so that today worldwide, exist 218 Ombudsman offices (national, regional, municipal, specialized ombudsmen).
The Ombudsman institution has developed in two forms:
- Ombudsman with general competence – deals with all issues arising from dysfunctions in the public administration;
- Ombudsman with special competence – specialized in a certain field (for example: child protection ombudsman, consumer protection ombudsman, financial services ombudsman, equality and anti-discrimination ombudsman, ombudsman for persons with disabilities, ombudsman for the armed forces, etc.).
People’s Advocate Institution
Regardless of the manner and name under which the Ombudsman institution has been established by each state, the role of the Ombudsman is, in the classical sense, that of defender the rights of individuals in their relations with public authorities, and the means of exercising this general mandate vary from state to state.
Created by the 1991 Constitution, revised in 2003, as a novelty in the legal and institutional scenery in Romania, the People’s Advocate Institution was practically established and started to operate after the adoption of its organic law, in 1997.
The People’s Advocate is organized and operates in Romania exercising a general mandate of defender of the rights and freedoms of individuals in their relations, especially with public authorities, capitalizing on the tradition and experience of the classic Western European Ombudsman.
Appointed in the joint sitting of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, for a period of 5 years, to defend the rights and freedoms of individuals, the People’s Advocate, during his term of office, may not hold any other public or private position, except teaching jobs in higher education.
The People’s Advocate is assisted by deputies, appointed by the permanent offices of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, specialized in the fields of activity established by Law no. 35/1997, republished. These legal provisions create the premises for increasing the efficiency of the activity of the People’s Advocate institution and are in accordance with the regulations from other countries where the Ombudsman’s office is established and operates.
The placement of the People’s Advocate institution in Chapter IV, Title II of the Constitution, gives it particular legal features. In assessing its legal nature, it is necessary to see the legal clarifications which further detail the constitutional provisions (Art. 2 of Law no. 35/1997 on the organization and functioning of the People’s Advocate institution, republished), according to which:
- Is a public authority autonomous and independent from any other public authority, in accordance with the law;
- In the exercise of its attributions, the People’s Advocate does not substitute itself for the public authorities;
- The People’s Advocate cannot be subject to any mandatory or representative mandate;
- No one may compel the People’s Advocate to comply with their instructions or orders;
- It has its own budget which is an integral part of the state budget;
- The People’s Advocate and his deputies are not legally liable for the opinions expressed or for the acts they fulfill, in compliance with the law, in the exercise of their duties provided by law.
All these are the result of the special constitutional position of the institution and explain why, in fact, the People’s Advocate is accountable only to the Parliament, a responsibility that materializes through the obligation to submit reports.
They may contain recommendations for amending legislation or other measures to protect the rights and freedoms of individuals. Through the special reports submitted to the Parliament, the People’s Advocate has the opportunity to highlight the serious shortcomings and dysfunctions in the public administration and to draw the public’s attention to them.
The permanent bureaus of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate appoint the deputies of the People’s Advocate, specialized in the fields of activity established by Law no. 35/1997, republished, with subsequent amendments and completions:
- human rights, equal opportunities for men and women, religious cults and national minorities;
- the rights of the family, young people, pensioners, people with disabilities;
- defense, protection and promotion of children’s rights;
- army, justice, police, penitentiaries;
- property, labor, social protection, taxes and fees;
- the prevention of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in places of detention.
The People’s Advocate exercises its duties either ex officio or at the request of the persons aggrieved in their rights and freedoms, within the limits established by law. The Constitution obliges the public authorities to provide the People’s Advocate with the necessary support in the exercise of its duties.
In order to fulfill its constitutional and legal role, the People’s Advocate receives, examines and resolves, in accordance with the law, the complaints addressed by any natural person, regardless of citizenship, age, sex, political affiliation or religious beliefs.
Complaints addressed to the People’s Advocate must be made in writing and sent by mail, e-mail, telephone, fax, or directly, through hearings. Practice has shown that hearings are the main means of dialogue with citizens, used in most cases, but also the fastest way to clearly identify the complainants’ problems, legislative gaps or aggressive regulations on citizens’ rights and freedoms. The complainant must prove the refusal of the public administration to legally resolve the request. Complaints addressed to the People’s Advocate are exempt from stamp duty.
In order to solve the problems with which it is notified, the People’s Advocate has the right to request the public administration body in question, to take the appropriate measures to defend the rights and freedoms of individuals, as well as to notify the hierarchically superior public authorities, in connection with reaction of those asked to take the necessary measures.
The People’s Advocate has the right to make its own inquiries, to ask the public administration authorities for any information or documents necessary for the investigation, to hear and take statements from the heads of public administration authorities and from any public servant who can give the information necessary to resolve the complaint.
Also, in the exercise of its duties, the People’s Advocate issues recommendations. Through the issued recommendations, the People’s Advocate notifies the public administration authorities on the illegality of their administrative acts or deeds. This mode of action expresses the particular nature of the Ombudsman’s function; thus, it is strong not because of its authority or because of confrontations or threats, but because of its persuasive power and public denunciation.
The competence of the People’s Advocate in resolving complaints regarding the judicial authority is materialized in its legal possibility to address, as the case may be, the Minister of Justice, the Public Ministry or the President of the court, who are obliged to communicate the measures taken. It is a legal way in which the People’s Advocate can intervene in the situations of bureaucracy generated by the non-application of Art. 21 of the Constitution, which capitalizes on the provisions of Art. 6 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms concerning the right of the parties to a fair trial and to the settlement of the case within a reasonable time.
The Ombudsman’s work is complementary to that of the courts. Unlike courts, the Ombudsman draws on his experience dealing with individual complaints to identify and report systemic problems in the public administration.
The People’s Advocate can get involved in the constitutional review of laws and ordinances done by the Constitutional Court. Thus, the People’s Advocate can notify the Constitutional Court regarding the unconstitutionality of the laws adopted by the Parliament, before their promulgation by the President of Romania; may raise before the Constitutional Court, exceptions of unconstitutionality regarding the laws and ordinances in force; formulates, at the request of the Constitutional Court, points of view on the exceptions of unconstitutionality of laws and ordinances, which refer to rights and freedoms of citizens.
Also, the People’s Advocate may notify the competent administrative litigation court pursuant to Art. 3 of Law no. 554/2004 on administrative litigation, with the subsequent modifications and completions, as well as the High Court of Cassation and Justice, with the appeal in the interest of the law, under the conditions of Art. 514 of the Code of Civil Procedure or Art. 471 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, in order to ensure the unitary interpretation and application of the law by all courts.
In order to facilitate the access of all citizens, both from urban and rural areas, to the People’s Advocate institution, at the territorial level, 14 offices have been set up, which operate in the territorial area of jurisdiction of the courts of appeal, in the following locations: Alba-Iulia, Bacău, Braşov, Constanţa, Cluj-Napoca, Craiova, Galaţi, Iaşi, Oradea, Piteşti, Ploieşti, Suceava, Târgu-Mureş and Timişoara.