Petri Jääskeläinen, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, presented the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s 2019 Annual Report to Anu Vehviläinen, Speaker of Parliament, on Wednesday 17 June.
It was a record-breaking year for the Parliamentary Ombudsman. In 2019, the Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman received a record 6,267 complaints, which is almost 700 more than in 2018 (5,591 complaints).
The activities of the Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman were characterised by the wide range of actions taken in 2019 to safeguard the rights of older people.
100 years of the Parliamentary Ombudsman
In his address, Parliamentary Ombudsman Jääskeläinen examines the development of the Parliamentary Ombudsman institution over its 100 years of history. The early period was fraught with difficulty because in 1920, when the Ombudsman was just starting out, there was already another supreme overseer of legality in Finland: the Chancellor of Justice. This meant that there were not enough complaints for the Parliamentary Ombudsman to handle. However, the Parliamentary Ombudsman has become established, as demonstrated by the number of cases: whereas the Parliamentary Ombudsman received 39 complaints in 1920, a record-breaking 6,267 complaints were sent in the year under review – more than three times the number submitted to the Chancellor of Justice.
In Jääskeläinen’s opinion, one of the most important reforms currently on the horizon is the development of the division of labour between the Parliamentary Ombudsman and the Chancellor of Justice. A government proposal is currently in preparation on this topic.
In the future, the institution of the Parliamentary Ombudsman may come under threat. For example, responsibilities closely related to the legal positions of individuals could be left outside the Ombudsman’s rem, or reforms may be enacted or actions taken that would jeopardise the Ombudsman’s independence. As the caseload continues to increase, efforts must be made to ensure the sufficiency of the Ombudsman’s resources.
Internationalisation of the institution of the Parliamentary Ombudsman
In her address, Deputy-Ombudsman Maija Sakslin examines the internationalisation of the institution of the Parliamentary Ombudsman. Over the course of a century, the Parliamentary Ombudsman has become a strong institution that builds on our understanding of legality and lays the foundations for a functional democracy and the strong rule of law, promoting the realisation of basic and human rights. However, the Parliamentary Ombudsman institution relies on the strong rule of law for support.
One of the distinctive characteristics of Finland’s constitutional system is the strong position of the Parliamentary Ombudsman, underpinned by the culture of constitutional law. The Parliament and its members have traditionally respected the integrity and independence of the Parliamentary Ombudsman institution.
At present, there are more than 140 parliamentary ombudsman institutions in the world. In recent years, many of these have been subjected to threats and attacks. Several international protection mechanisms have arisen to safeguard national institutions.
There are separate processes for monitoring the implementation of some of these. Monitoring focuses especially on the independent and impartial position of the national parliamentary ombudsman institution, sufficient funding, and effectiveness in promoting and protecting human rights.
In the future, the activities of the Parliamentary Ombudsman will come under increasing international scrutiny. Evaluations will examine the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s institutional operating conditions and the content and effectiveness of the Ombudsman’s oversight of human rights. It is already apparent that closer international interaction has altered the activities and the institution of the Parliamentary Ombudsman, and it will also influence the way in which the Finnish rule of law is reformed, remains strong and safeguards basic rights for all.
The rights of children in basic education and good governance
In his address in the annual report, Deputy-Ombudsman Pölönen discusses the rights of children in basic education and the role of good governance in safeguarding basic and human rights in basic education.
The decisions by overseers of legality assume pronounced significance in this broad-ranging area, which is not under the regular supervision of any external parties. Pölönen emphasises the fact that all activities in the field of education rest on basic and human rights and, more specifically, the rights of the child. Basic and human rights belong to everyone, including children. Children must be treated as individuals. Care should always be taken to ensure that children are appropriately included and their opinions are heard whenever decisions are made that affect them, including and especially regarding the context of schooling.
The cases processed by the Parliamentary Ombudsman in the course of the oversight of legality typically concern shortcomings in administrative procedures, the right to equal education, decisions concerning special support, religious elements in schools, and questions about safe learning environments. Free basic education was an important theme during the year under review. This is essentially a matter of the pupil’s rights – the best interest of the child.
The Parliamentary Ombudsman’s Annual Report was published in Finnish and Swedish on 17 June 2020 on the Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman website http://www.oikeusasiamies.fi/ and http://www.ombudsman.fi/.
For more information, please contact Principal Legal Adviser Riitta Länsisyrjä, tel. +358 9 432 3363.