An ombudsman is a government official charged with representing the interests of the public by investigating and addressing complaints reported by individual citizens. The term arose from its use in Sweden, with the Parliamentary ombudsman instituted in 1809 to safeguard the rights of citizens by establishing a supervisory agency independent of the executive branch. The word ombudsman and its specific meaning has since been adopted in to English as well as other languages, and ombudsmen has been instituted by other governments and organizations such as the European Union.
The origin of the word is found in Old Norse and the word umbuds man, meaning representative. The first preserved use in Swedish is from 1552. It is also used in the other Scandinavian languages such as the Icelandic "umboðsmaður", the Norwegian "ombudsmann" and the Danish "ombudsmand". An ombudsman doesn't necessarily have to be appointed by government, but an ombudsman of an non-governmental organization, whether working only for the own members or for the general public, does obviously not carry any special powers or sanction abilities.
In 1713 King Charles XII of Sweden, preoccupied with fighting the Great Northern War, was residing in Bendery and had not set foot in Sweden in over a decade. In order to reestablish the domestic administration, which had fallen into disarray, he instituted the office of His Majesty's Supreme Ombudsman. The role of the King's Ombudsman was to ensure that judges and public officials acted in accordance with the laws, proficiently discharged their tasks, and if not he could initiate legal proceedings for dereliction of duty.
The autocratic rule of Gustav III of Sweden, that ended half a century of parliamentary supremacy in 1772, prompted the Riksdag of the Estates to institute an Ombudsman who was independent of the executive power when his son Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden was deposed in 1809. The King's Ombudsman, who in 1719 had been given a new title; Chancellor of Justice, was to be accompanied by a Parliamentary Ombudsman . The office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman was established by the Instrument of Government of 1809 and its role preserved in the new Instrument of Government in 1974.
Apart from this there are also a number of more specialized ombudsmen that operate under the authority of the Government of Sweden:
- Swedish Ombudsman for Equal Opportunities , or Jämställdhetsombudsmannen (JämO)
- Swedish Ombudsman for Children , or Barnombudsmannen. Observes matters affecting the rights and interests of children and young people.
- Swedish Disability Ombudsman , or Handikappombudsmannen. Monitors issues relating to the rights and interests of persons with disabilities.
- Swedish Ombudsman against Discrimination on Grounds of Sexual Orientation, or Ombudsmannen mot diskriminering på grund av sexuell läggning (HomO)
- Swedish Ombudsman against Ethnic Discrimination , or Ombudsmannen mot etnisk diskriminering
The Director-General of the Swedish Consumer Agency is also designated as a Consumer Ombudsman.
The European Ombudsman was established by the Maastricht treaty, the treaty establishing the European Union.
The Office of Ombudsman was set up under the terms of The Ombudsman Act, 1980. The Ombudsman, who is appointed by the President of Ireland upon the nomination of both Houses of the Oireachtas, deals with complaints against Government Departments, local authorities, health boards and An Post.
The Spanish laws translate "ombudsman" as defensor del pueblo ("People's defender").
There is a general Defensor del Pueblo for issues with the Spanish administration, and regional ones for the autonomous communities of Spain:
The Spanish Defensor can start processes at the Constitutional Court .
In the United Kingdom a post of Ombudsman is attached to the Westminster Parliament with additional posts at the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and other government institutions.
List of all Ombudsman in the United Kingdom
- Estate Agents Ombudsman, Financial Ombudsman Service, Financial Services Ombudsman Scheme for the Isle of Man, Health Service Ombudsman - England, , Health Service Ombudsman - Wales, Housing Ombudsman Service (HOS), Independent Police Complaints Commission, Legal Services Ombudsman, Local Government Ombudsman - England, Local Government Ombudsman - Wales , Northern Ireland Ombudsman, Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman, Parliamentary Ombudsman, Welsh Administration Ombudsman , Pensions Ombudsman, Removals Industry Ombudsman Scheme, Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman, Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, Telecommunications Ombudsman (OTELO)
Many private companies also have an ombudsman (or a ombudsman department). Like the government official, they receive complaints and resolve them. Though they are not legally independent, they are part of a company's customer service strategy. Some companies treat their ombudsman very seriously and the ombudsman is very independent.
Newspaper ombudsman are especially valuable to newspapers by promoting journalistic integrity to their readers. There is an international Organization of News Ombudsmen. The press in Sweden is self-regulated through the Public Press Ombudsman (Allmänhetens Pressombudsman) and the Swedish Press Council (Pressens Opinionsnämnd).