COMMISSIONERS FOR ADMINISTRATION (‘OMBUDSMEN’)
We saw in Chapter 9 that, despite policies aimed at steering people away from the courts, the public appetite for litigation has not abated, particularly as a means of calling public authorities to account for their actions. Nevertheless, there are many types of public activity which cause dissatisfaction, and these may not always be subject to legal challenge either before the courts or in the many tribunals that are available, because there has been no technical breach of the law. This is where the ombudsmen come in. The term ‘ombudsman’ is a borrowing from Swedish administrative law. The first ombudsman in this country was the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration (PCA), a post established in 1967. Since then, the role of the ombudsman has spread to other sectors of public life: there is an ombudsman for the National Health Service and an ombudsman for local government. While their areas of remit may differ, they all have in common the important role of making public authorities accountable to individuals for administrative failure. This administrative failure is known in ombudsman terms as ‘maladministration’, and people’s complaints must concern themselves with the way decisions are reached, and the manner of their implementation, rather than the quality of the decisions themselves. Any findings or recommendations made by an ombudsman at the end of the investigative process are not legally binding on the public authority complained against. The ombudsmen have no sanctions, but rely, instead, on co-operation.