Parliamentary Ombudsman Riitta-Leena Paunio presented her annual report for 2008 to the Speaker of the Eduskunta on 28.5.2009.
The contents of the annual report include opinion articles by the Ombudsman and the two Deputy-Ombudsmen, a review of activities during the year and a comprehensive examination of implementation of fundamental and human rights in administration and other activities subject to the Ombudsman's oversight.
Double jubilee year for the Ombudsman institution
Ombudsman Riitta-Leena Paunio deals in her opinion article with the development and spread of the Ombudsman institution as well as with its prospects for the near future.
The Ombudsman institution came into being in Sweden 200 years ago. Hundreds of Ombudsmen from all over the world will gather in Stockholm in June to celebrate the bicentenary. It is also a jubilee year in Finland, which created the world's second Ombudsman institution 90 years ago in the 1919 Constitution. However, the anniversary of this is traditionally marked in early February, because the first Finnish Ombudsman began his duties only in 1920.
Over the years, the emphasis in the Ombudsman's work has been shifting more and more onto fundamental and human rights and, thanks to international cooperation, the human rights perspective will continue to be accentuated in the future. A network of human rights institutions and Ombudsmen is now being put in place as a result of an initiative by the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights. The establishment of a national monitoring body is now in the planning stage. It is required under the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. In the future, this OPCAT project will give the Ombudsman even greater powers of oversight in prisons and other closed institutions.
Ensuring legal assistance for those who are deprived of liberty
Deputy-Ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen notes in his opinion article that problems in ensuring legal assistance for persons who are deprived of liberty stem mainly from shortcomings in legislation. For example, the prerequisites for meetings with legal representatives being monitored have been imprecisely defined. Therefore incorrect practices can come into being in the way that meetings are arranged. The prerequisites subject to which incoming mail from legal representatives can be examined have also proved to have been unsuccessfully formulated. This has led to practices that violate the confidentiality of correspondence with legal representatives.
The non-uniformity of the regulations contained in three different pieces of legislation, the Prison Act, the Detention Act and the Police Cells Act, is an additional problem. The basic solution of having three Acts may be purposeful, but there is no justification for the legal assistance with which persons who are deprived of their liberty being regulated in different ways in each one. The right to confidential legal assistance should not depend on the processual status of persons who are deprived of liberty or to which place of confinement they have been assigned.
The many problems of the prison service are clearly evident in the fact that 150 complaints by prisoners, i.e. one in three, led to measures by the Ombudsman in 2008. This is twice as much as in complaint cases on average.
The Ombudsman and media freedom
Deputy-Ombudsman Jukka Lindstedt devotes his opinion article to decisions by the Ombudsman that impinge on media freedom. They often concern protection of privacy.
The issue in complaints to the Ombudsman concerning photographing or filming have related to restriction of the right to photograph in such places as at a crime scene, a railway station or a health centre. It has been pointed out in the decisions on the complaints that there must be lawful grounds for doing so when photographing or filming is restricted. Attention has also been drawn to the status of the media in photographing and filming demonstrations.
The second category with a bearing on freedom of expression comprises complaints in which the suspicion is raised that the authorities have publicly revealed information that is required by law to be kept secret. This can involve releasing information on, for example, a crime suspect or a cause of death. Another matter on which the Ombudsman has had to reflect from the perspective of protecting secrecy involves the police being accompanied by media and other outside parties in the course of their official duties. The point of departure in decisions has been that the authorities must observe the limits that the legislator has set with regard to what information must be kept secret.
Record numbers of complaints and decisions in 2008
The number of complaints has increased in recent years. The Ombudsman received nearly 3,700 in 2008, an increase of 7% on the previous year. Nearly 45% of complaints were received via electronic routes.
The largest category of complaints concerned the social welfare authorities. The police category came second, with the number of police-related complaints increasing by about 14% on the previous year's total. Other complaints often related to the prison service and health care authorities as well as courts.
The number of decisions issued was likewise a new record. The total was over 3,700, up about 5% on the previous year. About 50 decisions were issued in cases that the Ombudsman had decided to investigate on her own initiative.
About 18% of all complaint and own-investigation cases in which decisions were announced led to the Ombudsman taking measures. The possible sanctions are a prosecution for misconduct in office, a reprimand, the expression of an opinion for guidance and future reference, a recommendation, and a rectification. No prosecutions were brought last year.
In addition, the Ombudsman conducted inspections of 71 sites.
The summary of the annual report, in English (.pdf, 914 Kb)