Peculiarities of the appearance of ombudsmen in the Iberian countries of Europe

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Author: Olga Gavrilova

DOI: 10.21128/1812-7126-2018-3-33-46

Keywords: elaboration of the Constitution; human rights; Ibero-American states; ombudsman; political regime; transitional period


In the 1970s there was a change in the political regime in Spain and Portugal. The result was the adoption of constitutions designed to create the legal basis for democratization that were characterized by a broad perception of the foreign experience of constitutionalism. In particular, some institutions were included in the state mechanisms, which had won recognition in states that are committed to constitutional values, but were new to Spain and Portugal. One of them is the institution of the ombudsman. The development of an ombudsman was widely discussed in professional circles. Legislators held discussions on the necessity an ombudsman in the state’s legal system, its name, and some other important issues. However, the situation with human rights, the judicial system, and defects in other human rights institutions, such as violations by executive bodies and undermining public confidence to the institutions of public authority as a result of the dictatorial regimes in Spain and Portugal, were obvious enough. Hence the prevailing of the viewpoint on the expediency of the institution of the Ombudsman as an institution designed to control the administration from the perspective of respect for human rights. Herewith, in the course of building the Ombudsman concept, a special role was assigned to representatives of science and journalism. In the process of adopting the Constitutions and, subsequently, the laws on the ombudsman, the legislators demonstrated an understanding and unwillingness to transform the institution into a political tool of any political party.

The provisions regulating the status and activities of this institution in the Iberian countries of Europe allowed the Ombudsman to not be guided by political interests in the process of investigating the improper activity of executive bodies. As a result of the adoption of constitutions and laws regulating the status and activities of the Ombudsman, the institution was provided with guarantees of political neutrality: the status of ombudsmen was fixed in the law at a high level; the organizational independence of the Ombudsman from public authorities was ensured; Ombudsmen were empowering with a broad competence, including the authority to initiate amparo proceeding in Spain, and to forward the appeal to the Constitutional Court with a request to verify the constitutionality of normative acts in Spain and Portugal; ensuring the financial independence of the Ombudsman’s activities; securing the responsibility for interference in its activities; regulating the procedure for empowering and terminating the powers of the ombudsman; and, in Portugal at least, ensuring that the ombudsman also has immunity. The authors of the current constitutions of Portugal and Spain aimed not only to borrow constitutional institutions that proved to be justified in foreign countries, but also to increase their effectiveness. Therefore, ombudsmen in these countries have some powers aimed at increasing such efficiency and expressing the features of their status. The establishment of the ombudsman institution in Portugal and Spain had an impact on Latin America, where the institution of the ombudsman appeared and spread with the inherent characteristics of the Ibero-American ombudsman.

About the author: Olga Gavrilova – Ph.D. student, Faculty of Law, Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia.

Citation: Gavrilova O. (2018) Osobennosti vozniknoveniya instituta ombudsmena v iberiyskikh stranakh Evropy [Peculiarities of the appearance of ombudsmen in the Iberian countries of Europe]. Sravnitel’noe konstitutsionnoe obozrenie, vol.27, no.3, pp.33–46. (In Russian).


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