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Toward a definition and taxonomy of public sector ombudsmen.


The ombudsman concept came into existence in 1809 with the introduction of the so-called "justitie ombudsman" in Sweden (Ebert 1968), and spread world-wide in the 1960s. Ever since, there has been ongoing discussion about the ombudsman's defining characteristics. The concept evolved and transformed quickly and apparently effortlessly as it was applied to new countries, situations and needs. Each conceptual adaptation created one or more technical terms (public sector, private sector, traditional, classical, parliamentary, legislative, executive, speciality, single-subject, multiplemandate, hybrid, organizational, corporate, advocate, umbuds, ombuds, Ombudsman, ombudsmen, ombudsinstitution, ombudspeople). Not all of these terms describe different concepts of ombudsmen; some are even misnomers. This article aims not only to define these technical terms, but also to use the ensuing discussion to clarify the term "ombudsman" itself. (1)

The spread of the ombudsman concept during the 1960s, thanks in part to the influence of Donald Rowat, was notably driven by Canada which, at the time, qualified as one of the world's most advanced democracies (Rowat 2009). Consequently, it comes as no surprise that Canada not only experienced the evolution of the ombudsman concept first hand, but also still exhibits the marks of historical, transformational trends. Four examples elucidate this point:

--There is no national legislative ombudsman--an office that is frequently created before the establishment of ombudsman offices at the regional level. That opportunity, however, was lost due to the early establishment of the Alberta and New Brunswick ombudsmen in 1967.

--The National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman was established in 1998 at a time when the creation of speciality ombudsmen was already in vogue. In fact, its Swedish counterpart (the "militie ombudsman") has existed since 1915.

--Many Canadian ombudsmen do not bear the title, such as the Office of the Correctional Investigator, who nevertheless is a pristine example of a legislative ombudsman.

--The Office of the Correctional Investigator is also a good and rare example of an existing institution that achieved the coveted change of status and independence of legislative ombudsman.

There are many more variations on the basic ombudsman concept to be found in Canada. These will be noted in the text whenever appropriate. This diversity leaves citizens confused about to whom to apply and what to expect, and pushes ombudsmen into the inefficient role of "traffic director" (Hyson 2009). Consequently, the structure this article aims to provide is of relevance to the current situation in Canada and should foster a deeper understanding of the existing offices' peculiarities.

This article consists of the following sections: in section one, the article will cite the two definitions most commonly referred to when explaining the ombudsman concept and illustrate their differences. Section two will provide a definition of the related technical terms, identifying those that are interchangeable and eliminating all contradictory terms. In the third section, the article will compare the remaining terms with the two definitions of ombudsman, leading to a critique of both definitions. Section four will discuss the criteria for a conclusive definition of public sector ombudsmen and offer a possible new definition. The appropriateness of the proposed definition will be explored in section five and, ultimately, this definition will form the foundation of the taxonomy in section six.

The advantages of this taxonomy are threefold. First, it allows for a quick orientation to the full expanse of all things ombudsman. Second, it will allow the expert to situate the discussion in the broad web of ombudsman terminology. Third, it will provide those undertaking the creation of a new office with an elucidation of their options, thus empowering them to choose a design that meets their individual needs and situation.

Discussion of definitions

The foundation for any taxonomy must be a clear understanding and sharp definition of the underlying concept. To this day, there is no universally agreed upon definition of "ombudsman" (Ayeni 2000). However, there is a plethora of suggestions from which two are most commonly cited and have thus influenced the international development of the concept. The first was created in 1974 by the International Bar Association (IBA) and has been prominently quoted as recently as 2008 (Frank 1975; Seneviratne 2002; Kucsko-Stadlmayer 2008). The IBA defined an ombudsman as

an office provided by the constitution or by action of the legislature or Parliament and headed by an independent high level public official who is responsible to the legislature or parliament, who receives complaints from aggrieved persons against government agencies, officials and employees or who acts on his own motion, and has power to investigate, recommend corrective actions and issue reports (Allen 1974: 1078).

It is important to note the historical context of this definition. In 1955, Denmark established its ombudsman office, which was inspired by the original Swedish ombudsman (Busck 1995). The definition was crafted at a time when the Swedish ombudsman idea in its Danish form (Kucsko-Stadlmayer 2008) first began to spread around the world. Consequently, it fails to encompass all of the subsequent transformations of the idea.

In 2001, the American Bar Association (ABA) published its frequently discussed Standards (Jessar 2005; LeBaron 2008; Thacker 2009) containing the following definition:

An ombuds is a person who is authorized to receive complaints or questions confidentially about alleged acts, omissions, improprieties, and broader, systemic problems within the ombuds's defined jurisdiction and to address, investigate, or otherwise examine these issues independently and impartially (ABA 2001: 10, 2004: 11).

Published 27 years after the IBA definition, this definition is obviously broader than the first, thanks to the authors' knowledge of the extension of the ombudsman concept. Its aim was to include all ombudsmen in existence.

The two definitions are not mutually exclusive, in the sense that those ombudsmen who meet the IBA's definition are also included in the ABA's definition. The opposite, however, is not true: the IBA definition excludes many of those institutions that the ABA's definition would classify as ombudsmen. Since both definitions are still in use today, the question of which definition to use as the basis of a taxonomy arises. The answer depends on which one, if any, conforms to the criteria for an accurate, modern definition.

Definition and structuring of technical terms

A logical starting point in the quest for said definition would be an assessment of what should be included in the definition. Here, the existing technical terms may serve as a guideline. However, the liberal application of the ombudsman rifle (Hyson 2006; Kucsko-Stadlmayer 2008), which might be attributed to the fact that the name is more highly favoured than the concept (Rowat 2007), necessitates not only that the technical terms be defined and sorted, but also that synonyms be identified and any contradictory terms eliminated.

Umbuds, ombuds, ombudsman, ombudsmen, ombudsinstitution, ombudspeople

These terms illustrate the development of the ombudsman concept. Umbuds is the Swedish origin of the word ombudsman, meaning "representative." Ombudsman is the most commonly used modern English term. It is now considered that the correct plural usage is "ombudsmen," and that "ombudsman" is indeed gender neutral (Seneviratne 2002). (2) Before this consensus was reached, however, feminist discussion tried to rid the term of the supposedly discriminatory ending "-man," resulting in the terms "ombuds," "ombudsperson" and even the plural "ombudspeople" (Rowat 2007).

The feminist debate does not extend to the term ombudsinstitution, which serves as a useful reminder that most ombudsmen offices today are, while frequently single-headed departments, by no means limited to one appointment in time or to one single appointee. They constantly face the risk of losing the authority attached to a specific individual and slipping into the dangerous territory of being just another layer of bureaucracy (Anderson 1981). According to Maurice Hauriou (2002), the expression "institution" is based on the idea of power that is self-limiting through a purpose, which may be defined by the institution itself. The self-limiting purpose of the ombudsman is derived from its double function, which is discussed below. The existence of the purpose that is defined by the instituting agency--a parliament, a ministry, etc.--legitimizes the existence of the term ombudsinstitution. The terms ombudsman and ombudsinstitution do not refer to different types of ombudsmen but rather are two coexistent, generic terms.

Private and public sector ombudsmen

These terms illustrate one of the transformations that occurred after the creation of the IBA's definition. When North America experienced what is sometimes referred to as "ombudsmania" (Ascher 1967; Rowat 1968; Gottehrer 2000), the result was the creation of ombudsmen not only within different parts of the public sector (such as the executive), but also, for the first time, within newspapers, universities and other private sector institutions. An example of a private sector ombudsman is the Canadian Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments.

Traditional, classical, parliamentary, legislative, executive

These five terms emerged following the spread of the ombudsman idea, which is easily understandable if one examines the terms "classical" and "traditional," in particular. In this case, perhaps counter-intuitively, "classical" does not refer to the first office ever to be called ombudsman (the Swedish). Instead it alludes to the ombudsman model which became "classical" in the 20th century in Europe: a parliamentary ombudsman (Oosting 1999) with only "soft powers" of investigation, recommendation and reporting (like the Danish ombudsman) (Kucsko-Stadlmayer 2008: 2, 44, 63). Not all "parliamentary" ombudsmen are classical ones--particularly those who have not only soft, but also "strong powers" (Kucsko-Stadlmayer 2008: 41, 54ff). Yet all "parliamentary" ombudsmen are "legislative" ombudsmen. The terms are therefore synonyms (see Figure 1).

"Traditional" refers to the Scandinavian ombudsman idea, instituted by the Swedish office and exported in its Danish form. "Traditional" and "classical" are therefore mostly synonymous. Since "legislative" is the most inclusive of the terms listed above, it will be used later in the discussion.

The executive ombudsman is an American mutation of the concept. Alan Wyner (1975) defines this as a centralized complaint-handling position, where the ombudsman has been appointed to office and serves at the pleasure of an elected or appointed chief executive. The executive ombudsman reports either to parliament or to its establishing institution. The non-legislative establishment allows for a speedy creation of the office, since the whole process of legislation may be avoided, and a correspondingly fast removal should the ombudsman prove inconvenient. The diminished independence of this position has in the past sometimes led to the refusal of the ombudsman rifle, -which is said to have been given "only through (flagrant) misuse of language, to ease tensions and appease public opinion" (Hadi 1977: 334).


Organizational, advocate, corporate

The Ombudsman Association (TOA) created the term organizational ombudsman and uses it to define all non-legislative ombudsmen.3 Donald Rowat (2007) rightly states that it is meaningless, for legislative ombudsmen are just as much a part of an organization and are thus "organizational." The term is consequently excluded from further discussion and representation in the taxonomy.

The term advocate ombudsman is an oxymoron. Even under the broad definition of the ABA, an ombudsman has to be impartial. Yet, an advocate is a person who pleads a case on someone else's behalf and is thus forced into taking a side. Consequently, a person or office can only be either ombudsman or advocate.4 For example, the Norwegian Commissioner for Children, who in a survey conducted by Daisy de Asper y Valdes (1999) stated the non-neutral conduct of her investigations by calling herself primarily a client's advocate, is correctly lacking the rifle of ombudsman.

The corporate ombudsman's duty is to settle disputes within a business corporation. His or her complainants are either exclusively internal (employees) or, if external (customers), they are not part of a system of subordination dependent on the company and thus may take their business elsewhere. The corporate ombudsman's main objectives are peace within the company and maintenance of its favourable public image. The officeholder serves at the goodwill of the company's management and, as a company subset, is part of the private sector. A more accurate title emphasizing the position's internal role might be "mediator" or, in Europe, "works council"; the external role would be better identified by the titles "liaison officer" or "help-desk." Nevertheless, the corporate ombudsman constitutes a subspecies of the private sector ombudsman.

Speciality, single-subject

Speciality and single-subject ombudsmen may exist in both the public sector (prison, health service, military) and private sector (newspaper, university, company). According to general linguistic usage any single-subject ombudsman is a speciality ombudsman. The latter constitutes a slightly broader term as it can extend to two-subject ombudsmen and possibly even to three- or four-subject ombudsmen depending on the relative size of the subjects. An example of a two-subject speciality ombudsman is the Prison and Probation Ombudsman for England and Wales. The opposite of speciality ombudsman is a general ombudsman which, except for its being an obvious counterpart, is a superfluous term due to its imprecision. Lately, the trend appears to favour unifying speciality ombudsinstitutions to achieve integrated, national ombudsinstitutions (Giddings 2001; Kirkham 2010).

Multiple-mandate, hybrid

A further development in the conceptualization of public sector ombudsmen is the emergence of so-called multiple-mandate ombudsinstitutions. These first became popular when Portugal established its Provedor de Justica in 1975, and describe ombudsinstitutions usually at the national level of government with a special mandate for the protection of human rights (5) the surveiliance of the democratization process. These institutions are basically general ombudsmen with a specified additional mandate.

The term "hybrid" ombudsman refers to a similar concept. In scientific literature the term is generally used to refer either to a public-private sector ombudsman, who would be an ombudsman for an entire industry or service sector created by legislation, or to an ombudsman with an additional focus on human rights or anti-corruption (Reif 2004). An example of a hybrid ombudsman with an additional focus is the Office of the Yukon Ombudsman and Information & Privacy Commissioner (Cameron 2009). Despite their being technically correct, the terms "multiple-mandate" and "hybrid" do not add another layer to the discussion.

This completes the process of defining the terminology, leaving us with the following terms: private and public sector, legislative, executive, corporate, speciality (single-subject), multiple-mandate and hybrid.

Comparison of technical terms to the definitions, and critique of the definitions

The remaining technical terms now have to be tested for their conformity to the definitions presented in section one. As elucidated in section two, given its historical context, the IBA's definition describes legislative ombudsmen exclusively. Moreover, the authors never intended it as a scientific definition but rather as a recommendation for international politics (Allen 1974). It is consequently inadequate as a definition of all public sector ombudsmen.

In contrast, the ABA's definition is much more inclusive. It succeeds in encompassing the private and public sector, legislative, executive, corporate, speciality (single-sector), multiple-mandate and hybrid ombudsmen. The downside of this inclusivity is diminished accuracy. In fact, some have argued that the ABA's definition is "vague and virtually meaningless" (Rowat 2007). This definition is indeed too broad, for it endows any mother settling her children's arguments with the title of ombudsman. What it does define is better called a mediator or arbitrator, both of which exist in the public and private sectors. Therefore, both the IBA's and the ABA's definitions are not useful foundations for an up-to-date taxonomy of public sector ombudsmen.

Discussion of the foundation for and proposal of a new definition

This outcome now calls for the selection of another definition. Though not as frequently cited, there have been other attempts at definitions, most of which have simply managed to highlight one aspect or define one specific kind of ombudsman (Seneviratne 2002). Yet the creation of a taxonomy requires a definition that encompasses all aspects of the public sector ombudsman idea and allows for a clear-cut differentiation between ombudsman and non-ombudsman.

A possible approach is to ascertain which of the terms listed in the conclusion of section two should be included within such a definition. Obviously all of those examples exist and not only call themselves ombudsmen, but are also referred to as such both by associations and in the literature.

The separation of these terms into those to be included in and those to be left out of a definition of the ombudsman may draw on the primordial reasons for the creation of an ombudsman. The reasons for the creation of the first ombudsman offices (the concept may be traced back to antiquity and the depth of Chinese history [Hansen 1972; Atalay 2000]) are twofold. On the one hand, the emergence of the welfare state was accompanied by legislation causing a shift in power from the citizen to the state, resulting in a feeling of desolation or utter dependence in face of the state's superiority (Matthes 1981). Thus, the need for a guarantee of each individual's legal rights increased, necessitating the addition of further protective measures. On the other hand, the legislature traditionally in charge of the system of checks and balances for public officials delegated much of this power to the executive (Frank 1975), which caused the administration to be viewed to an increasing extent as an independent power (Busck 1995). This situation could be counteracted by augmenting Parliament's position and solidifying the individual's legal rights in relation to the administration. An ombudsman, now, is useful for the protection of individual rights as well as for the defence of democracy as a whole via the supervision of the executive. (6) Consequently, an ombudsman is an office created for the public sector within a system of monopolistic subordination in charge of protecting the individual's rights and the democracy. In short, every ombudsman has a double function (Matthes 1981; Hopp 1983). This includes the ombudsman institutions charged with the realization of principles of good administration (like the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman in the United Kingdom) since their modus vivendi relies on individual complaints as well. If one were to picture the ombudsman's conceptual core or nucleus, it would look like Figure 2.

Figure 2 depicts the double function of ombudsmen, which is derived from the primordial reasons for the creation of the institution, and quite obviously excludes all private sector ombudsmen since these are not concerned with upholding democratic values or defending individual rights against the state. Indeed, some authors hold that only public sector legislative ombudsmen truly deserve the title of ombudsman. A restricted use of the rifle was proposed many times (Frank 1975; Owen 1993; Hyson 2006). Yet the fact has to be acknowledged that the ombudsman rifle has irreversibly spread to the private sector. Even Donald Rowat, a staunch defender of the ombudsman title, conceded in 2007 that the term was already too entrenched in areas outside the legislative scheme for there to be any more use in trying to restrict it (Gottehrer 2000; Rowat 2007: 49).


The reason for the attempted restriction of the rifle was the honourable intention to avoid confusion over the extent of an ombudsman's powers and independence, which are the biggest differences between public and private sector ombudsmen. While most public sector ombudsmen are external complaint-handling mechanisms with extensive powers of investigation and recommendation as well as considerable independence, private sector ombudsmen are dispute-resolution mechanisms (Seneviratne 2000; Reif 2004), in which powers and independence may be lacking from both a legal and factual viewpoint. This, however, is a very strong generalization; some public sector executive and speciality ombudsmen raise much doubt as to the extent of their powers and independence, while some private sector industry ombudsmen have relatively strong powers and independence. As a whole, both public and private sector ombudsmen are well established and each encompasses multiple subgroups. This is why Figure 2 is labelled "Conceptual Core of the Public Sector Ombudsman." The private sector ombudsman also has a double function, namely the defence of consumer/customer rights against the company and the systemic supervision of the up-keep of industry standards. Thus, the double function is a common feature of all ombudsmen.

This article, however, aims to establish a definition for public sector ombudsmen. This purpose is well served by the image in Figure 2 and the consequent exclusion of the terms "private sector" and "corporate" ombudsmen.

Recently, Linda Reif provided a definition that meets these criteria and reads:

The ombudsman is a public sector institution, preferably established by the legislative branch of government, to supervise the administrative activities of the executive branch. The ombudsman receives and investigates impartially complaints from the public concerning the conduct of government administration. ... The general objectives of the ombudsman are the improvement of the performance of the public administration and the enhancement of government accountability to the public (2004: 1).

Although the second sentence hints at the second part of the ombudsman's double function, namely of being in charge of the defence of individual rights, the explicit statement of the ombudsman's general objectives excludes this important factor. Compared to the definitions discussed previously, it also neglects own-motion investigations and makes no mention of the ombudsman's tools. Consequently this definition may be viewed as a valid stepping stone, but it does not proffer the perfect definition on which to build a taxonomy.

Another definition that excludes the private sector and corporate ombudsmen is that proposed by Jurgen Hansen (1972: 2) who holds the ombudsman to be

[a] reliable person who for the purpose of legal protection of individuals as well as parliamentary control supervises almost all administrative bodies and civil servants. He cannot correct their decisions, but--based on submitted complaints or own initiatives--he may criticize them (translation according to Heede 2002: 9).

This definition encompasses the terms "public sector" and "legislative." It also applies to executive ombudsmen as long as they report to Parliament. Thus, this definition is neither vague like the ABA's nor limited to one specific type of ombudsman like the IBA's. Yet, it excludes executive ombudsmen who are not directly part of parliamentary control mechanisms since they only report to their establishing institutions, such as ministries or specific departments thereof. Nevertheless, these executive ombudsmen may work in defence of democracy via the control of the administration. Speciality (single-subject), multiple-mandate and hybrid ombudsmen are also excluded although they defend the individual's rights against the state and may be designed as a direct part of parliamentary control. Their exclusion may stem from the fact that the definition was created before the world-wide spread and subsequent transformation of the ombudsman concept. However, since the existence of executive, speciality (single-subject) and hybrid ombudsmen is in accordance with the reasons for creating the ombudsman concept (again, its double function), they have to be accepted as adaptations of the original.

Consequently, the technical terms that conform to the original ombudsman concept and therefore ought to be included in a definition at the heart of a corresponding taxonomy are public sector, legislative, executive, corporate, speciality (single-subject), multiple-mandate and hybrid. If we combine these with the useful attempts at definitions highlighting the legal foundations (IBA) and tools (Hansen) of an ombudsman, we arrive at three focal points to consider for the definition: the ombudsman's double function, legal foundation and tools.

A definition summarizing these aspects would be an amalgamation of previous attempts and might read:

An ombudsman is a public sector institution which, for the purpose of the protection of individual rights and the defence of the fundamental rights of democracy such as civil and human rights, is authorized by a parliament, a ministry or a subdivision thereof (legal foundation) to investigate independently both own-motion as well as complaints from citizens about an alleged part of the administration's/executive's acts, omissions, improprieties, and broader systemic problems, and whose only tools--due to not being invested with any executive power--are its own personal authority, recommendations, annual and special reports and the media.

This definition encompasses all public sector ombudsmen, be they legislative of executive ombudsmen, and/or either speciality (single-subject) of general ombudsmen with or without any multiple-mandate or hybrid function.

Exploration of the appropriateness of the definition's approach

The idea to base an attempt at an ombudsman definition on its legal foundation has not gone uncontested in the literature. An opposing approach has recently been undertaken by Rhita Bousta (2005), who tried to develop a positive definition of the ombudsman, rather than defining it in relation to the powers of Parliament, government or the judiciary. She ended up defining the ombudsman as a completely independent institution, leaving people with questions such as "independent of what" and "by what means is this independence supposedly established, if not by the institution's legal foundation" (2005: 49)?

Bousta correctly quotes independence as one of the International Ombudsman Institute's (IOI) criteria, with complete independence being the righteous aim of any ombudsman, which incidentally very few ombudsman plans ever achieve. This is so because the ombudsinstitution does not exist in a void (Eklundh 2002). It is part of a highly complex web of relations among the legislative, the executive, the political and to some extent even the judicial spheres. Yet the focus of any discussion regarding the independence of the ombudsman tends to be in relation to the executive (Rowat 2007). Thus, independence generally means one or all of the following: that the executive cannot 1) give any directives; 2) influence the ombudsman's budget; and/or 3) limit the extent of the ombudsman's investigative powers. There are some executive ombudsmen who actually meet some if not all of these criteria (for a discussion of the independence of the Prison and Probation Ombudsman for England and Wales see Seneviratne 2001), which reaffirms the correctness of the executive ombudsmen's placement within the bounds of the definition. However, due to the overpowering usefulness of the ombudsman for the protection of citizens' rights and the strengthening of parliamentary control, even less independent executive ombudsman plans should be considered a step in the right direction. This rings especially true since the worst-case scenario for an executive ombudsman would be that of not fulfilling one or both of his or her double functions, which would lead to a quick abolition. The slight danger that this ombudsman may taint the image of ombudsmen as a whole is counteracted by the smooth functioning of the many efficient, not-quite-independent American ombudsmen. Because independence, therefore, does not suffice as a basis for a positive definition, the above new definition is correctly rooted in the legal foundation. The following taxonomy will be based on this new definition.


There have been previous attempts at categorization, a recent one being what Reif named "Variations on the Ombudsman Theme" (2004: 26). However, this categorizatoin is not based on a single strict definition but instead encompasses everything with the rifle of ombudsman. Accordingly, it includes not only non-entities such as organizational ombudsmen, but also an enumeration of several different subdivisions both on a horizontal plane (public, private) as well as on a vertical plane (national, international, supranational).

Katja Heede (2002: 79ff, 103) took an entirely different approach, dividing ombudsmen based on redress and control-oriented choices. This method focused on the priority that a specific kind of ombudsman, either individually or characteristically, placed on one of the two parts of the double function, and did not match the terminology-based approach applied here. Thus, Heede's categorization does not supersede this attempt at a taxonomy.

A further categorization attempt for European public sector legislative ombudsmen was made by Gabriele Kucsko-Stadlmayer (2008: 4ft). She divided all ombudsmen into three groups called "Classical Model," "Rule of Law Model" and "Human Rights Model." Despite the name of the second group, Kucsko-Stadlmayer did not argue that the object of the first group was simply the defence of individual rights; indeed, all three models were part of parliamentary control mechanisms. The second model instead described those ombudsmen empowered with additional rights, such as legal action or control of the administration of the judicial branch. Her book, however, did not deal with the political term "ombudsman" but rather with its constitutional concept. This categorization attempt therefore by no means contradicts this categorization approach.

The suggestion closest to a taxonomy was provided by Victor Ayeni (2000: 28). His figure was based on a deliberate rejection of classical and non-classical categories, and "analyzes existing institutions using three main-parameters: the broad functions of the office, the structure of the office and its existence as a 'state' or 'non-state' institution" (2000: 10). This approach differs from the definition-based method employed here and consequently produces different results.

Figure 3 constitutes a taxonomy of all the terms discussed in this article. Please note the labelling of the first hierarchical level. Although "ombudsmen according to title or performance" may at first glance seem confusing, it attempts to include those institutions that are misnomers as well as those that are ombudsmen according to the ABA's definition yet do not bear the title of ombudsman. The rest of Figure 3 conforms to the argument laid out above and acts as a visual summary of the preceding discussion.


It has been common practice in the literature of the last few decades to cite a well-established definition appropriate for the author's discussion, to provide a new definition or simply list characteristics without proper discussion of the appropriateness of their usage. The resulting multitude of conflicting definitions was probably caused by the absence of strict limitations on the term. This might have been prompted by two issues: first, that the generation of scholars witnessing the first rise of the ombudsman concept refused to acknowledge any transformation as a valid addition (Hill 1983, Rowat 2007); and second, that the private sector eagerly embraced the concept as an addition to the popular dispute-resolution movement, which was easily inserted into corporate structures (Rowe 1988, Rowat 2007).


This article discussed the different prevalent definitions and combined their valid aspects into a new definition of public sector ombudsmen that, based on the core concepts of the ombudsman idea, aims to encompass all valid transformations as well as expose misnomers and mutations.

The discussion of the primordial reasons for the introduction of ombudsmen provided much-needed clarity and structure and generated a new awareness for the exigency of precise terminology within the literature as well as for the creators of new offices. The figures and the taxonomy based on the proffered new definition are intended to provide additional visual lucidity.


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(1) Please note that not all offices possessing the characteristics of an ombudsman actually carry the word ombudsman in their rifle; e.g., Mediateur de la Republique, Defensor del Pueblo or Quebec's Protecteur du Citoyen. However, as long as they are consistent with the definition of ombudsmen presented in this article, they are (public sector) ombudsmen and are represented in the taxonomy. The opposite is also true; not all institutions that bear the rifle of ombudsman actually deserve it. They are listed in the taxonomy as misnomers.

(2) Although again discussed in LeBaron (2008).

(3) Available from [last accessed 8 July 2011].

(4) A fact that seems to have been overlooked by the ABA on p. 2 of their Standards for the Establishment and Operation of Ombudsman Offices; in agreement with the author of this article: Tibbles (1971: 430).

(5) It shall be noted here that, even before the invention of the human rights ombudsman, the scope of examination of classical ombudsmen already extended to human rights (Kucsko-Stadlmayer 2008: 63).

(6) See Busck 1995 (23); that the institution of the ombudsman can contribute to the strengthening of parliamentary control is also argued by Council of Europe Recommendation No. R (85) 13 of the committee of ministers to member states, 23 September 1985.

The author is a doctoral candidate in the Law Department, Freie Universitat Berlin, Berlin, Germany. She thanks the anonymous reviewer for the kind advice on improving earlier drafts of this paper. She also gratefully acknowledges the support provided by a doctoral scholarship awarded by the Hanns-Seidel-Foundation with funding from the Federal Ministry for Education and Research, Germany.
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Author:Carl, Sabine
Publication:Canadian Public Administration
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Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jun 1, 2012
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