Joint Committee On Human Rights Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

58.  Memorandum from the Commissioner for Local Administration in Scotland

  Thank you for your letter of 21 March 2002. As you are aware the Scottish Parliament has also been looking at the development of a human rights culture and my office has responded to consultations of the subject.

  Rather than answer each of your questions individually I have tried to answer question one and then reflect on how human rights issues have influenced policy and practice over my office in its 26 years' existence. My authority is derived from the Local Government (Scotland) Act which defines my task as the investigating of complaints about maladministration with injustice and reporting on them. The focus is on analysis of a complaint to determine the facts which generated the complaint. That is not done explicitly against a human rights framework. It is, instead, undertaken first against the legal background of the service concerned, then the "best practice" of the service delivery sector and lastly against generally recognised principles of sound administration. The paramount consideration has been resolution of the complaint and for the last 10 to 15 years successive Ombudsmen in Scotland have tried to make early resolution without formal investigation the norm. What has been seen to constitute maladministration has developed over the years, from the experience of this office and the experiences of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsmen, and the other Public Service Ombudsmen within the British Isles. I suspect the gradual move over the last decade to a rights culture has been influencing thinking, without detracting from the focus on the issues of each individual complaint and the needs of each individual complainant. With the incorporation of the European Convention into our law I expect the influence to grow and become much better understood by Ombudsmen and bodies within their jurisdiction. There is one development which I find potentially of benefit in my practice and which if applied further has the potential to move matters on, namely the Code of Good Administrative Behaviour promoted by the European Ombudsman and approved on 6 September 2001 by the European Parliament. Whilst targeted at European Institutions I believe it sets out in plain language principles which are of universal application by Ombudsmen at all levels. More importantly it describes behaviour which all public administrations should aspire to achieve. (The Code is available at It is anchored in Article 41 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, reflects fully the aspirations of the Charter itself and fills a gap between the pragmatic, problem solving role of any UK Ombudsman operating within statutory parameters and the broader principles of the Charter.

16 April 2002

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