The ombudsman institution in other countries
The institution of the ombudsman originated in Sweden. In 1809 the national parliament, the Riksdag, created the post of Riksdagens justitieombudsman.
Ombudsman is Swedish for "representative". The first holder of the post was charged by the Riksdag with the task of exercising oversight to ensure that courts and authorities acted in accordance with the law. The aim was thus to safeguard the rights of citizens.
The Ombudsman was to promote uniform application of the law, and highlight inclarities in legislations. He was to perform his task by carrying out inspections and examining complaints.
Finland's ombudsman institution world's second-oldest
Following the Swedish model, Finland created the post of Parliamentary Ombudsman in 1920. Thus the Finnish ombudsman institution is the world's second-oldest.
The ombudsman institution spread to the other Nordic countries in the mid 20th century. In Denmark the post of Folketingets ombudsmand was created in 1955. In Norway the first Stortingets ombudsman assumed his post in 1962.
In both of these countries, the powers of the Ombudsman are more limited than in Sweden and Finland. The institution later spread to other parts of the world, mainly following the Danish model.
The institution is spreading to many parts of the world
The 1970s saw the ombudsman institution gain a foothold in New Zealand, in Canadian provinces and Australian states. Since then an institution of this kind has been established in most European countries.
Ombudsman functions have likewise been created in Central and Eastern European countries since the 1970s. The institution is known in some African countries, many countries in Central and South America and nowadays also in Asian and Pacific countries.
According to the International Ombudsman Institute (IOI), there are now ombudsmen in around 140 countries. However, some of them are regional or local.
Italy and Germany are examples of countries that do not have parliamentary ombudsmen.
The European Ombudsman
The European Union created the post of European Ombudsman in 1995.
The task of the European Ombudsman is to oversee the action of Union institutions to ensure they observe the principles of good governance.
The first incumbent of the office was Jacob Söderman, who had formerly been the Parliamentary Ombudsman in Finland. The present incumbent is Professor P. Nikiforos Diamandouros from Greece