The Role of the Ombudsman in
Resolving Disputes
Marie Anderson
Deputy Assembly Ombudsman
and Commissioner for Complaints
for Northern Ireland
Law Commission Report on Public Law
Four Pillars of Administrative Justice
 Complaints Mechanisms of Public
 Ombudsman
 Tribunals
 Courts [Judicial Review]
 Need for User Focus
Administrative Justice Landscape
Government regulates various aspects of our
everyday lives, making decisions in relation to
individual people. ‘Administrative Justice’
includes the procedures for making such
decisions, the law that regulates decisionmaking, and the systems (such as the various
tribunals and ombudsmen) that enable people
to challenge these decisions. [AJTC]
The Ombudsman Enterprise
Scandinavian origins;
Ombudsman is a ‘trusted official’ who investigates
complaints against administration;
New Zealand Ombudsman –’The Reviewer of
Administrative Decisions’;
Classical Public Sector Ombudsman;
BIOA criteria of Independence, Fairness,
Effectiveness and Public Accountability [BIOA
consultation to add openness and transparency to this
The Northern Ireland
Popular title for two statutory offices
Assembly Ombudsman for Northern Ireland - deals
with complaints of maladministration about Northern
Ireland Departments and their agencies under the
Ombudsman (NI ) Order 1996 – exception PPS(NI)
Commissioner for Complaints for Northern Ireland complaints of maladministration about local
government , health service, NIHE, Housing
Associations and justice bodies
Commissioner for Complaints – also Health jurisdiction
includes complaints about clinical judgement of health
service providers including GPs, Pharmacists and
History of the Northern Ireland
‘Parliamentary’ Commissioner for Administration – first such office
in the UK;
Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1967 established the
Commissioner who may only receive complaints through
members of the House of Commons;
Response in Northern Ireland. Stormont established the office of
Assembly Ombudsman in 1969;
Based on Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1967;
Backdrop of concerns over discrimination in employment, housing
and local government;
Commissioner for Complaints established to deal with complaints
of maladministration to include bias and discrimination;
Direct access to Commissioner for Complaints.
Trusted Official
Independent of governmental bodies that the Ombudsman
An Agent of Parliament;
Northern Ireland Ombudsman is one the Statutory Officers of the
Northern Ireland Assembly;
Like Comptroller and Auditor general;
Holds the Executive to account for actions or inactions of public
Independence underpinned by appointment and funding
Appointment by the Queen under Royal Warrant;
Authority derived from letters patent;
NI Ombudsman currently does not formally report to a Committee
of the NI Assembly.
What does an Ombudsman do ?
Investigate Complaints of maladministration;
 No statutory definition of maladministration ;
 Crossman Catalogue - bias, neglect, delay turpitude,
 PHSO Principles of Good Administration;
 Promoting Good Administration;
 Ombudsman reports on findings of investigation;
 Ombudsman makes recommendations (not binding)
Relevant Ombudsman
Ombudsman (Northern Ireland ) Order 1996
 Commissioner for Complaints (Northern Ireland ) 1996
 Commissioner for Complaints (Amendment) (NI) Order
 North /South Co-operation (Implementation Bodies)
(Northern Ireland) Order 1999
 Department of Justice (NI) Order 2010 [adds DOJ to
 Additional justice bodies added to Commissioner for
Complaints jurisdiction.
Ombudsman (NI) Order 1996
Establishes the Assembly Ombudsman for Northern
Ireland (AONI)
 Appointment tenure, salary , pension and staffing
arrangements (articles 4-6)
 Article 8 and Schedule 2 list all Departments and
other authorities subject to AONI jurisdiction*
 Article 8(2) OFMDFM power to amend the list by entry
or removal of bodies subject to jurisdiction
 Article 9 – Matters subject to Investigation ‘any action
taken by or on behalf of a department or other
authority in the exercise of ‘administrative functions’
* [All 12 NI Departments are within AONI jurisdiction, not
Every investigation shall be conducted in
Ability to ask for information from any person
or body or third party;
Equivalent powers to a High Court Judge;
Obstruction/Contempt – certify to High Court;
Does not determine rights and obligations;
Makes Findings and Recommendations.
Ombudsman Reports
Annual reports published in public domain;
Periodic digest on sectoral issues;
Anonymised as regards complainant;
Privilege attaches;
Statutory bar on Ombudsman giving evidence;
Statutory bar on disclosure of information
No formal Enforcement Powers under Ombudsman
(NI) Order 1996;
Provision for special report if NI Department or agency
or body in jurisdiction fails to implement
Not used in NI although threatened – Jill McIvor
Commissioner for Complaints – can make such report
as he thinks fit;
Complainant can seek damages and costs in County
Craigavon case – no jurisdictional limit on amount of
award and can appeal to High Court and Court of
Proposed New Legislation
OFMDFM Committee Bill
 Merging two offices;
 Removal of MLA filter [twin track
 Extension of jurisdiction [schools and
colleges of further and higher education].
Further Proposals (debate ongoing)
Own initiative;
 Removal of employment jurisdiction;
 Remove right to go to County Court;
 Remove right to formal hearing.
Useful Contacts
Freephone: 0800 34 34 24

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