Parliamentary Ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen presented his annual report for 2011 to the Speaker of the Eduskunta Eero Heinäluoma on Friday 8.6.2012.
The citizen perspective in the Ombudsman's work
What Ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen emphasises in his commentary article is the citizen perspective in the Ombudsman's work: Can the Ombudsman help?
The amendments to the Parliamentary Ombudsman Act that entered into force at the beginning of June 2011 have made it possible to bring greater flexibility to investigation of complaints and to develop working methods. Now the resources available for investigating complaints can be focused more than was earlier the case on precisely those matters in which the Ombudsman can really help the complainant in one way or another.
The Ombudsman's work has traditionally been after-the-fact oversight of legality and measures by the Ombudsman have mainly had the aim of changing official actions and legislation in the future. The view that has generally been taken is that nothing can be done for the person who has experienced the violation of rights that is the basis for the measure.
It is precisely in this that a change is happening. Now something that is considered separately is whether the violation that the complainant has suffered could still be rectified, or if this is not possible, could recompense be made for the damage that has been caused the complainant or for their suffering. Recompense need not always be monetary; in cases where the violation has been relatively minor, it may already suffice for the authority to acknowledge its error and apologise.
Apologising and making recompense have been alien concepts in Finnish official culture. However, good results have been achieved with the Ombudsman's recommendations for recompense. Many authorities have already understood that acknowledging an error and apologising as well as when necessary paying a small amount of cash as compensation are correct and effective means of restoring citizens’ trust in official actions. The Ombudsman is trying to promote the emergence of a new official culture of this kind.
Defence Forces in a state of flux
Deputy-Ombudsman Jussi Pajuoja deals with questions and challenges that arose on inspection visits to and complaints concerning the Defence Forces.
Looked at from the perspective of equality, the present conscription system faces three major challenges. First, fewer men than earlier are doing their national service. Second, the lengths of time that conscripts serve differ more from each other than they used to. Third, there is also pressure for the contents of national service to be more differentiated than they currently are so that service motivation can be sustained throughout the period that men are serving in the forces.
Amalgamation and closure of garrisons involve also factors with oversight-of-legality dimensions. From the point of view of conscripts, longer trips to and from home are a question with a bearing on costs, traffic safety and use of time. Professional care of their health, which is a key fundamental right of conscripts, should be arranged on a stable basis.
There have also been complaints about environmental matters relating to the Defence Forces’ firing ranges. It would be advisable for the Defence Forces to apply for the necessary environmental licences and, on their own initiative, build equipment that meets the demands.
The men arriving to do their national service have gone through the Finnish school system and thus received an education that ranks very high in international comparisons. One of the key challenges facing national service lies in this: conscripts place high expectations, with respect to its standard and nature, on their training in the Defence Forces.
Implementation of fundamental rights in the European Union becoming more effective
The significant role that the fundamental rights guaranteed in the European Union’s charter play in the activities of the Union has been strengthened in many ways. Ever since the Charter became legally binding with the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty, it has been an important instrument for promoting the rights of citizens, writes Deputy-Ombudsman Maija Sakslin in her commentary article. In the short time since its creation, in 2007, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights has become an important actor in the sector of these rights within the EU.
The visibility of fundamental rights in the European Union strengthened markedly in 2011. Among other measures, the Commission approved operational guidelines on taking account of fundamental rights when appraising the impacts of legislation, and the Council drafted a summary of measures that it plans to implement in support of application of the Charter.
The Court of Justice of the European Union has been referring to the Charter increasingly often. It has become a human rights court, through the work of which the importance of fundamental rights is becoming visible, their contents are being explicated and the uniformity with which they are applied is increasing.
Indeed, it can be said that the nature of the European Union is changing from that of an economic cooperation body towards one that is founded more and more on cooperation that is based on the rights of citizens.
However, citizens have been found to have little information about the contents of the Charter of Fundamental Right and where they can obtain help if their rights are violated. For this reason, both the Commission and the European Ombudsman have launched electronic services aimed at citizens.
Oversight of compliance with the Charter of Human Rights is the responsibility of national ombudsmen and courts when an official, an authority or other party exercising public power is applying Union law.
Number of complaints again over 4,000
The strongest growth was in the numbers of complaints concerning the police, social welfare and labour administration.
More complaints resolved than arrived
Over 18 per cent of complaints led to measures. The measures available are a prosecution for breach of official duty, a reprimand, the expression of an opinion, a recommendation and a rectification. One prosecution was ordered last year, 39 reprimands were issued and 628 opinions expressed. Most expressions of opinion were addressed to the social security, police, prison and health care authorities.
Twice as many inspection visits
There were 43 unannounced visits. In addition to prisons, the places visited included police detention facilities as well as social welfare and health care units.
The Ombudsman's annual report is published in Finnish and Swedish. In addition, an English summary of it is drafted.
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