Ombudsmen Essay

1904 words - 8 pages

An Ombudsman is a 'complaints man'; a person that people can go to who will investigate complaints of maladministration against public bodies. Their main purpose is to secure redress for injustice where an individual has been treated unfairly by the government. This is especially important when the individual has no choice but to deal with a public body. For example, in order to receive a passport, an individual must apply to the Home Office. There are no other legal avenues through which one can obtain one, therefore, there needs to be an effective complaints system in place. Once the reason for the maladministration has been identified, ombudsmen also take actions to ensure that the public body is aware of the mistake and therefore can learn a lesson from it, which they can apply in future cases. They also attempt to do these things in a way that avoids the cost and formality of court proceedings.Ombudsmen will find instances of maladministration where injustice has occurred in the decision-making process. They are not concerned with the decision itself, only if the way in which it was reached is unjust. There is no legal definition of maladministration but there is a list of examples of what constitute it in the 'Crossman catalogue'. This includes things such as bias, delay and incompetence. This catalogue has recently been updated to include things that highlight the importance of the principles of good administration e.g. rudeness.The principles of good administration that ombudsmen require from public bodies include i) acting in accordance with the law and with regard for the rights of those concerned, ii) being customer focused and easily accessible, iii) being open and accountable, iv) putting things right i.e. apologizing where necessary, and v) seeking continuous improvement (Elliott & Thomas, Public Law; 623). If these are not complied with, the Ombudsman will find that maladministration has occurred and will recommend a remedy to the public body concerned, to fix the injustice that has occurred and a way of avoiding such injustice in the future.There are two models of public Ombudsmen systems: the intergrated model with a single Ombudsman responsible for overseeing all public bodies e.g. the Welsh and Scottish Public Service Ombudsmen, and the fragmented system, like in England, with different Ombudsmen responsible for the oversight of different public bodies. The problem with the English system is that people can find it difficult to know to which Ombudsman to complain. For example, if there was case of maladministration at an individual's local hospital, they might not know whether to complain to their Local Government Ombudsman or to the Health Service Ombudsman. This could even put people off complaining at all.It would probably be easier for people bringing complaints to Ombudsmen in England if they would change their system to the intergrated one and just had one Ombudsman overlooking all public bodies. However,...

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