The Ombudsman and the Chancellor of Justice
There are two supreme overseers of legality in Finland: the Parliamentary Ombudsman and the Chancellor of Justice.
Their tasks and powers are largely the same. Both oversee the legality of the actions of authorities and officials. The Chancellor of Justice also oversees the actions of lawyers and has the special task of overseeing the legality of the government's actions.
In principle, a complaint can be made either to the Ombudsman or the Chancellor of Justice. However, differences in the division of tasks between them determine which of them ultimately investigates a complaint.
Should I make the complaint to the Parliamentary Ombudsman or the Chancellor of Justice?
You should make the complaint directly to the overseer of legality who is responsible for the matter under the act on the division of duties. If this has not been done, the Parliamentary Ombudsman or the Chancellor of Justice will transfer the matter to the correct overseer of legality. If for some reason it is considered appropriate to transfer a complaint from one overseer to the other, the complainant is always notified of this.
The Ombudsman and the Chancellor of Justice do not investigate a matter at the same time. If a complaint has been sent to both, it is generally investigated by whichever of them has received it first.
The Chancellor of Justice has the task of overseeing the legality of the government's actions. For that reason he is present at cabinet sessions and examines the relevant documents beforehand. The Ombudsman likewise has a right, but not a duty, to examine these documents. They will also not reinvestigate a matter on which the other overseer of legality has already issued a decision.
New act on the division of duties
The new act on the division of duties between the Chancellor of Justice and the Parliamentary Ombudsman entered into force on 1 October 2022. The act reformed the division of duties between the supreme overseers of legality to correspond to the special tasks laid down in the legislation on the overseers of legality and the specialisation that has been established in practice.
Key content and objectives of the reform
The Parliamentary Ombudsman oversees more extensively the implementation of fundamental and human rights at the individual level and, in particular, the implementation of the rights and treatment of vulnerable persons. The oversight of legality by the Chancellor of Justice will be directed at examining structural issues related to the implementation of fundamental and human rights in the development of public administration.
The aim of the reform is to reduce problems caused by overlapping duties between the Parliamentary Ombudsman and the Chancellor of Justice, improve the quality and effectiveness of oversight of legality, and support the uniformity and consistency of the decision-making practice.
The competence of the supreme overseers of legality to oversee the authorities and private parties performing public duties will remain uniform. However, under the act the Parliamentary Ombudsman and the Chancellor of Justice will primarily delegate matters between themselves to the overseer of legality to whom their processing has been centralised in the new act. In practice, most of the matters covered by the delegation procedure concern the matters centralised to the Ombudsman and are delegated from the Office of the Chancellor of Justice to the Office of the Ombudsman.
The rights of the individual emphasised in the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s tasks
Matters that were centralised to the Ombudsman include matters concerning the rights of the individual in social and health care and social insurance, as well as the oversight of the rights of children, elderly persons, and persons with disabilities. As a rule, the Ombudsman will also primarily oversee matters concerning pre-trial investigation authorities and security authorities.
The Chancellor of Justice, on the other hand, has concentrated oversight over matters related to the development of automatic administrative systems, the organisation of anti-corruption activities, as well as public procurement, competitive tendering, and state subsidies. The Chancellor of Justice will continue to process matters within the responsibility of the Government, even if they have otherwise been focused on the Ombudsman under the new act.
Categories centralised to the Ombudsman
In the new act, the Ombudsman has concentrated oversight over matters concerning:
1) the Defence Forces, the Finnish Border Guard, military crisis management personnel, the National Defence Training Association of Finland and military court proceedings,
2) police investigations and the powers laid down for the police or customs authorities as well as coercive measures and pre-trial investigation in criminal proceedings, excluding the waiver, discontinuation and restriction of the pre-trial investigation,
3) covert intelligence gathering, covert coercive measures, civilian intelligence, military intelligence and oversight of the legality of intelligence activities,
4) prisons and other institutions to which a person is involuntarily committed as well as other measures restricting a person’s right to self-determination,
5) the tasks of the national preventive mechanism referred to in the Convention against Torture,
6) the tasks of the national supervisory structure referred to in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,
7) the implementation of the rights of children, the elderly, persons with disabilities and applicants for asylum,
8) the realisation of individual rights in social and health care and social insurance,
9) public guardianship,
10) the realisation of rights guaranteed to the Sámi as an indigenous people,
11) the realisation of the rights to maintain and develop the language and culture guaranteed for the Roma and other groups.