As mentioned above, investigating complaints from citizens is a core function of the Ombudsman. However, opening investigations on his own initiative is also a high priority for the Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman may open t he following types of investigation on his own initiative:
- investigations of specific cases
- general investigations of an authority’s processing of cases
An example of a topic for a general investigation could be whether an authority’s interpretation and application of specific statutory provisions or its practice in a specific area is correct.
Objectives of own-initiative investigations
One of the main objectives of also giving high priority to own-initiative investigations is to identify recurring errors made by authorities. Investigations of this type can have a great impact on the case processing by authorities, thus helping a large number of citizens at the same time.
In an own-initiative investigation, the focus is not only on errors that the authority may already have made – but also on preventing errors being made in the first place.
In addition, the Ombudsman opens investigations on his own initiative of specific cases of a more one-off nature if he finds cause to look further into a case.
Backgrounds to opening own-initiative investigations
In practice, the Ombudsman mainly opens own-initiative investigations of themes and within areas with one or more of the following characteristics:
- There is an aspect of fundamental public importance.
- Serious or significant errors may have been made.
- They concern matters which raise important issues in relation to citizens’ legal rights or are otherwise of great significance to citizens.
Specific complaint cases or monitoring visits may give rise to suspicion of recurring errors etc. and be the launch pad for an own-initiative investigation. When the Ombudsman is investigating a specific case, his focus is therefore, among other things, on problems which characterise not only that particular case.
Media coverage of a case may also cause the Ombudsman to open an investigation on his own initiative. The Ombudsman monitors both local and national media.
Further, external parties – such as professional committees for practising lawyers or accountants or interest groups – can be useful sources of knowledge about recurring errors etc. on the part of authorities.
In addition, the Ombudsman chooses some general themes each year for the activities of the Ombudsman’s Monitoring Department, Children’s Division and Taxation Division.
What characterises the work on own-initiative investigations?
The Ombudsman’s own-initiative investigations comprise a variety of activities with the common denominator that they are not centred on a complaint in a specific case, as the focus is usually expanded beyond specific problems to a more general level, with emphasis on any general and recurring errors or problems.
Further, own-initiative investigations typically have a more forward-looking focus, centring on how the authorities involved can handle and rectify errors and problems.
In some own-initiative investigations, the Ombudsman reviews a number of specific cases from an authority.
In other cases, the Ombudsman asks an authority for a statement about, for instance, its administration, interpretation of the law, practice or processing times in a specific area.
The Ombudsman is working on an ongoing basis on a variety of own-initiative investigations where he considers, based on, for instance, specific complaint cases, legislative changes or media coverage, whether a matter should be investigated further. Thus, the Ombudsman decides on an ongoing basis which issues or areas give cause for investigation and how to prioritise them.
In some cases, the Ombudsman’s own investigation leads to the conclusion that there is no cause to contact the authorities involved and that the case can thus be closed without a full Ombudsman investigation. The Ombudsman may reach the same conclusion after contacting the authorities about a matter.