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Bill's Law - Ombudsman - 28 Jun

Bill Bevan - lawyer - The Ombudsman

 This week Bill looks at the role of the Parliamentary Ombudsman and how viewers who have complaints about government agencies can use this office to get help.

Q: What is the Ombudsman?

 The Ombudsman is an officer of Parliament given the task of investigating complaints about "unreasonable, unfair or wrong" treatment by government agencies or local councils. After carrying out an investigation the Ombudsman can report to Parliament and recommend that an agency take corrective action. A good example of the Ombudsman's work is the recent report on the Department of Corrections arising from the death of 17 year old Liam Ashley while be transported in custody.

Q: Everyone knows the facts behind this case&but what was the Ombudsman's role here?

 This was an investigation carried out on the Chief Ombudsman's own initiative. (an "Own motion investigation") into a fundamental responsibility of the Department of Corrections to ensure that "custodial sentences and related orders & are administered in a safe, secure, humane, and effective manner". This obligation to keep prisoners safe arises from a number of different sources:-
1. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) state that, "Everyone has the right to & security of person."
2. The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 states that all persons deprived of their liberty "shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the person";
3. A common law and statutory duty of care imposed on the State to provide prisoners with "the necessaries of life".
 As a result of the investigation the Ombudsman made a number of recommendations that included:-
1. the Department and the Police sort out a consistent the age for treating young prisoners as adult prisoners;
2. the Department specifically require its courtroom custodial staff to record statements made at court by judges and lawyers about "at risk" prisoners and seek additional transport instructions as appropriate;
3. Transport vehicles be designed to ensure that escort staff may observe all prisoner cages, and prisoners may communicate with those staff;
4. the Department set national standards for prisoner transport vehicles;
5. the Department get expert advice with to ways to minimise injury to prisoners in the event of road traffic accident
The report of the Ombudsman I not legally binding but is a highly persuasive initiative for change.

Q: What Agencies are covered by the Ombudsman?

WINZ, ACC Housing New Zealand, Internal Affairs, IRD NZ Immigrations service, Health authorities and local councils are just a few of the agencies that are subject to the Ombudsman's Act.
The Ombudsman can't investigate complaints against private individuals or companies, the Courts or MPs

Q: How do you make a complaint to the Ombudsman?

The first thing that needs to be done is to raise the problem out with the Government Agency concerned. If there is an existing complaints process then use that first. (If you don't, the Ombudsman will simply refer you to that process before looking at the issue).
If there's no joy at the grass roots level then write to the head of the Department and ask for action.
If you still don't get the result you are seeking then ring the ombudsman office, send / fax a letter or email about your complaint to the ombudsman. You need to put all the relevant information in your complaint and provide copies of any correspondence you've had with the agency concerned. You should also state the remedy you seek.

More Information on the Ombudsman can be found at