21 st SESSION
Strasbourg, 18-20 October 2011
The office of Ombudsman and local and regional authorities
Recommendation 309 (2011)1
1. Safeguarding the health of a democracy requires a complex system of checks and balances, of which the institution of Ombudsman is a vital component. The Ombudsman is a valuable safeguard against administrative abuses at local and regional level which serves to build trust in public authorities and improve service provision.
2. In recent years Ombudsman services have been established in most Council of Europe member States where they were previously lacking. However, the coverage of complaints concerning local and regional public services in some countries remains incomplete, while in others the Ombudsman institutions are weak and inadequately resourced.
3. The Congress recognises that ensuring proper access to an Ombudsman service in order to lodge a complaint of maladministration regarding local or regional public services does not require the establishment of a separate Ombudsman office in each local or regional authority. However, each member State needs to adapt and develop its Ombudsman institutions to ensure that such complaints can be promptly and effectively handled.
4. While some regions have succeeded in establishing strong Ombudsman structures, in other cases the treatment of complaints suffers from the lack of a proper national structure with a corresponding institution to supervise national administrations.
5. The structure of Ombudsman institutions in a member State should aim to provide a service which ensures that all people have easy and transparent access to Ombudsman offices. A complainant should not need to travel outside of a region in order to lodge a complaint concerning a public authority within that region.
6. The Congress encourages cooperation and networking among Ombudsman offices, in particular in cooperation with the European Commissioner of Human Rights, the network of European Ombudsmen and the International Ombudsman Association. It also encourages cooperation among local and regional Ombudsmen in each member State and recognises the positive role that national coordinating committees can play in developing Ombudsman services.
7. The Congress therefore, referring to:
a. its "Principles governing the institution of the Ombudsman/Ombudsperson at local and regional level" (1999);
b. Congress Recommendation 61 (1999) on the role of local and regional mediators/Ombudsmen in defending citizens’ rights;
c. Congress Recommendation 159 (2004) on regional ombudspersons: an institution in the service of citizens' rights.
8. Recommends that the Committee of Ministers invite member States to ensure that, with regard to Ombudsmen that handle complaints of maladministration concerning local and regional public services:
a. all persons, regardless of their status and nationality, have easy and transparent access to such Ombudsman services;
b. any legal obstacles to providing an effective and comprehensive Ombudsman service be removed;
c. Ombudsmen have the mandate to act ex officio to open enquiries into cases of possible maladministration;
d. Ombudsman offices are staffed by people with independence, impartiality and competence, receiving salaries commensurate with their responsibilities, with knowledge of the administrations for which they handle complaints;
e. Ombudsman offices are financially independent and adequately resourced in order to be able to conduct the enquiries necessary to follow up complaints;
f. Ombudsman recommendations are publicised and given appropriate follow-up by local and regional authorities, with periodic reports being issued which identify recurring issues and measures taken to address them;
g. there is good cooperation and networking between Ombudsmen working for the local, regional, national and European levels, with the establishment of national coordinating committees where appropriate, to ensure that complaints are referred to the appropriate Ombudsman office and that duplication is avoided;
h. there is good cooperation between Ombudsmen and courts and related institutions.
9. The Congress recognises the valuable work of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights to facilitate the development of Ombudsman services that handle complaints about local and regional services and encourages him, in cooperation with the Congress and international associations of Ombudsmen, to continue to facilitate networking and exchange of good practice among these Ombudsman services, and to assist the development of existing national networks.
1 Debated and adopted by the Congress on 18 October 2011, 1st sitting (see Document CG(21)6, explanatory memorandum) Rapporteur: H. Pihlajasaari, Finland (R, SOC) and H. Skard, Norway (L, SOC)