Committee backs new principles aimed at ensuring Ombudspersons stay independent

PACE’s Legal Affairs Committee has given its backing to a new set of principles aimed at ensuring national Ombudsman’s offices across Europe remain independent, objective, transparent, fair and impartial.

Approving a report by Lord Richard Balfe (United Kingdom, EC), the committee endorsed the “Venice Principles”, adopted in March 2019 by the Council of Europe’s body of independent legal experts, the Venice Commission.

The 25 principles cover issues such as the constitutional guarantee for these institutions, the choice of institutional model, criteria for office, election, status, immunities, term of office, budgetary independence, competences, powers and accessibility.

The committee said the principles could “help Ombudspersons in resisting undue interference in their work”, help governments and parliaments to establish and consolidate Ombudsman offices, and provide guidance for Ombudspersons themselves, as well as potential complainants who are seeking their help.

The committee pointed out that, while most Council of Europe member States have established Ombudsman institutions, some have in recent years faced threats to their independence and effectiveness. These have included laws aimed at weakening Ombudspersons, undue delays in appointing them, rejection of their annual reports, unjustified budget cuts and audits, and even verbal attacks on them by government members.

The parliamentarians urged the Council of Europe’s ministerial body to consider setting up a mechanism so that member States could report regularly on the state of their implementation of the “Venice Principles”.

The report is due to be debated by the full Assembly in October.