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July 18, 2011

As part of his regular contact with Ombudsmen from other jurisdictions, under the auspices of the Public Sector Ombudsman Group, to which Gibraltar belongs, the Ombudsman recently visited Malta where the Maltese Ombudsman hosted the meeting of the Group which also marked the occasion of the Maltese Ombudsman’s 15th Anniversary.

 
Those attending the meeting were the United Kingdom’s Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, the Public Sector Ombudsmen for England, Wales and Northern Ireland; the Housing Ombudsman for England also attended.

To mark the occasion, the Speaker of the Maltese Parliament, the Hon Michael Frendo, MP hosted a round-table debate on the relationship between Parliament and the Ombudsman. The Government Whip and an elected member of the Opposition also took part in the debate.
 
The Maltese Ombudsman, Mr Joseph Said Pullicino (Chief Justice Emeritus), opened the debate highlighting the good relationship which he has with Parliament. He gave an account of his proposals for legislation in Malta whereby, based on the experiences that had been gained, the Ombudsman felt the need to propose institutional changes in the law aimed at achieving a measure of convergence between the Office of the parliamentary Ombudsman and that of other autonomous institutions set up by law, with a role analogous to that of the Parliamentary Ombudsman but only in respect of specific sectors. These institutions included the Audit Officer of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority and the University Ombudsman.
 
The Ombudsman's proposals were accepted by Government and approved by Parliament thus amending the Ombudsman Act of 1995. As a result, when the amendments are brought into force, the law will provide for the appointment of sectoral Commissioners. In the very near future, a Commissioner for the Environment and Planning, that of a Commissioner for Tertiary Education (in lieu of the Office of the University Ombudsman) and for the first time, a Commissioner for Health are expected to be appointed. These Commissioners will have complete autonomy and independence in determining complaints submitted to them within their functions. They would have mutatis mutandis, the same powers and duties as the Parliamentary Ombudsman, the same guarantees of security of tenure while applying the same procedures in the exercise of their functions. 
 
The Office of the Ombudsman would provide these Commissioners with the necessary administrative and investigative support. The Parliamentary Ombudsman would retain a right of review on the Final Opinions of these Commissioners only in cases where there are issues relating to the breach of the rules of natural justice, manifest error of law or of determining material error of fact.
 
The Speaker highlighted the good relationship that exists between Parliament and the Ombudsman in Malta. He stressed the importance of the Ombudsman within a democratic society. 
 
The importance of the Ombudsman carrying out his ‘Own Motion’ investigations, i.e. investigations without the need for a complaint and the use of the media by the Ombudsman was also debated. 
 
The Gibraltar Ombudsman spoke of the very high degree of independence that the Ombudsman enjoys in Gibraltar, the good working relations with all those under his jurisdiction and explained how we relate to the media to create awareness of the Ombudsman.
 
The following day the group held its usual meeting within the Parliament building by courtesy of the Speaker.