This Equinet perspective has been prepared to explore the links between equality bodies and ombudsperson offices. These links encompass:
Links between separate bodies can be both formal and informal and range in ambition. Ten of Equinet’s forty six members are multi-mandate bodies, in combining an equality mandate and an ombudsperson mandate as multi-mandate bodies.
Equality bodies are statutory bodies established to promote equality and combat discrimination. In many instances, they have been established on foot of the EU equal treatment Directives. They are diverse in their scale, length of history, legal basis, structure, mandate and function. This diversity influences the level and nature of links they might make with ombudsperson offices. The diversity of function is of particular relevance when it comes to the combination of competences accorded to equality bodies across: adjudicatory competences; competences to litigate and to support people experiencing discrimination; and competences to promote equality and combat discrimination.
The term ombudsperson is used in different ways. It does not always describe a traditional ombudsperson office and there can be different types of ombudsperson offices. These can address a particular issue, a particular group of people, or a particular sector of the administration. The traditional ombudsperson office tends to be established through the Constitution, or if not through then through legislation, and to address issues of mal-administration by public sector bodies with reference to a minimum standard that relates to ensuring no abuse of power and being just, accessible and effective. This is the understanding that is applied through this perspective.
Links between equality bodies and ombudsperson offices have a potential to contribute to the effectiveness of each. Multi-mandate bodies hold their own particular potential. It is useful to analyse the experience of equality bodies in making these links and within multi-mandate settings to better understand how this contribution to effectiveness can be achieved and how this potential can be realised.
The purpose of this perspective is to establish and explore this body of experience, build a knowledge base about making these links, enable a better understanding of the challenges in making such links, and identify the good practices that underpin the most fruitful linkages. Making such links is not a matter of a hierarchy of bodies or powers or bodies, but of getting the best out of the powers each body has.
This perspective was prepared in a context of significant developments with regard to the emergence of European standards for equality bodies. This is an area that Equinet has done considerable work on, in particular the publication of a working paper on the standards that might be required to ensure the necessary conditions needed for equality bodies to realise their potential. These standards will also have to address the particular situation, experience and potential of multi-mandate bodies in an appropriate and informed manner. It is hoped that this perspective will assist in this. Read more on our work on standards for equality bodies.
Our latest publication adds to the analysis done in our publication on Equality Bodies and National Human Rights Institutions – Making the link to maximise impact, which sought to establish principles and proposals to ensure that the links developed between equality bodies and national human rights institutions contributes to maximising the impact of these bodies.
The policy formation Working Group was mandated by the Board of Equinet to take the lead in preparing this perspective. This work started with a workshop on the topic for Working Group members. This was hosted in Croatia by one of the Equinet members that is a multi-mandate body, the Office of the Ombudswoman. This enabled a detailed presentation and discussion of this multi-mandate experience alongside an exchange of insights and experiences among members in making links between equality bodies and ombudsperson offices.
This workshop led to the preparation of a questionnaire which was circulated to all forty six Equinet members. A specific questionnaire was developed for multi-mandate bodies to ensure their particular experience and insights from this experience were captured. Twenty equality bodies responded to the general survey. Ten equality bodies responded to the tailored questionnaire for multi-mandate bodies.
The perspective was drafted by Niall Crowley (independent expert) on the basis of these inputs. It was reviewed by the members of the policy formation Working Group and their feedback incorporated. It was finally examined and approved for publication by the Equinet Executive Board.