Ombudsman Paul Dubé supports Venice Principles, strong legal foundation for ombudsman institutions
February 12, 2020
12 February, 2020
Speaking to colleagues from across Canada and around the world, Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé this week welcomed new international standards that define, promote and protect the role of ombudsmen in strengthening democracy and promoting fundamental rights.
(TORONTO – February 12, 2020) Speaking to colleagues from across Canada and around the world, Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé this week welcomed new international standards that define, promote and protect the role of ombudsmen in strengthening democracy and promoting fundamental rights.
Ombudsmen who strengthen democracy by overseeing government and the public sector now have a unique international set of standards, referred to as the Venice Principles, which set out the fundamental legal principles essential to the establishment of independent and impartial ombudsman institutions.
Emphasizing that the ombudsman is an important element in states based on democracy, the rule of law, good administration, and the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, the 25 Venice Principles represent the first independent and internationally accepted standards for the proper functioning and independence of parliamentary and public services ombudsmen.
“As Ombudsman of Ontario and the International Ombudsman Institute’s President for North America, I welcome the Venice Principles and hope that enabling legislation or terms of reference for ombudsmen around the world will reflect the spirit and intent of these internationally accepted standards,” Mr. Dubé stated.
At a time when many ombudsmen offices worldwide are under threat, and others have widely varying mandates, the creation of the Venice Principles is an historic development in the centuries-old evolution of the ombudsman institution, Mr. Dubé told participants in the “Advanced Issues for Ombuds” course on February 11, offered by Osgoode Hall Law School’s Professional Development program, in conjunction with the Forum of Canadian Ombudsman.
“The Venice Principles recognize that ombudsmen who oversee government and the public sector play a key role in strengthening democracy,” he noted in a joint presentation with Rob Behrens, U.K. Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. “They set out the fundamental legal principles essential to the establishment of properly independent and impartial ombudsman institutions. They will help protect ombudsmen who are facing threats, and provide useful guidelines for improving existing ombudsman offices and establishing new ones.” These comments were echoed by Andreas Pottakis, Ombudsman of Greece, in a visit to Mr. Dubé’s office today.
More formally known as The Principles for the Protection and Promotion of the Institution of the Ombudsman, the Venice Principles were created on March 15, 2019 by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe. Among the bodies consulted by the Commission were the International Ombudsman Institute and the Association des ombudsmans et médiateurs de la francophonie, of which the Ontario Ombudsman is also a member. On May 2, 2019, the Principles were endorsed by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.
They stipulate, among other things, that a state or parliamentary ombudsman should have a “firm legal foundation, preferably at the constitutional level,” that the state should “refrain from any action undermining its independence,” and that ombudsman appointments should be “according to procedures strengthening to the highest possible extent the authority, impartiality, independence and legitimacy of the institution.”
Said Mr. Dubé: “Government and public sector bodies do not always act in a manner that is transparent, fair, or respectful of people’s rights, and would sometimes prefer not to be held to account. Ombudsmen across the world frequently come under attack or face challenges, including threats, legal action, reprisals, budget cuts or limitations to their mandates.
“If governments are truly committed to upholding democracy and human rights, they need to protect ombudsmen from such threats and to make sure they can continue to do their work, both independently and effectively. The best way to protect any important structure is to build it on a firm foundation.
“The Venice Principles, developed by the world's leading body of international constitutional experts, can help with this. They contain provisions ranging from the appointment and term lengths of ombudsmen, to the financial stability and independence necessary for the proper functioning of ombudsman institutions.
The Council of Europe has described the Principles as “Democratic ABCs for ombudsman institutions,” and expressed hope that they will “guide and support the proper establishment and functioning of ombudsman institutions, the stability of democracies and the protection and promotion of fundamental rights.”
In a news release last March, the Council noted that the Principles are “meant to consolidate and empower ombudsman institutions,” adding that ombudsmen are “important for democracy, their services are free, and are thus accessible to individuals who cannot afford to pursue their complaints through the courts. They can take action independently against maladministration and alleged violations of human rights and hence play a crucial role with regard to the governments and parliaments which must accept criticism. As an interface between the administration and the citizens they are at times the first or the last resort to set a human rights violation straight.”
Read the Venice Principles.