The Office was established in 1809

The Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsmen was established in connection with the adoption of the Instrument of Government that came into force in 1809.

Bild på JO:s instruktion från 1810 Fotograf: JO

The Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsmen was established in connection with the adoption of the Instrument of Government that came into force after the deposition of the King in 1809. With the autocratic rule of King Gustaf III fresh in mind, the legislators introduced into the new constitution a system that would allow the Riksdag some control over the exercise of executive power. The Standing Committee on the Constitution was therefore charged with the task of supervising the actions of ministers and with ensuring the election of a special Parliamentary Ombudsman to monitor the compliance of public authorities with the law. The Riksdag Act of 1810 contained provisions concerning the Auditors elected by the Riksdag to scrutinise the doings of the civil service, the Bank of Sweden and the National Debt Office.

The idea of creating some organ answerable to the Riksdag that could monitor the way in which the authorities complied with the law was not a new one in 1809. In fact, in 1713 the absolute monarch Charles XII had created the office of His Majesty’s Supreme Ombudsman. At that time King Charles XII was in Turkey and had been abroad for almost 13 years. In his absence his administration in Sweden had fallen into disarray. He therefore established the Supreme Ombudsman to be his pre-eminent representative in Sweden. The task entrusted to him was to ensure that judges and public official in general acted in accordance with the laws in force and discharged their duties satisfactorily in other respects. If the Ombudsman found that this was not the case, he was empowered to initiate legal proceedings against them for dereliction of their duties. In 1719 the Supreme Ombudsman was given the title of Chancellor of Justice (Justitiekanslern). This office still exists, and today the Chancellor of Justice acts as the government’s Ombudsman.

According to the 1809 Instrument of Government, power was to be divided between the King and the Riksdag. The King was to appoint the Chancellor of Justice (in other words he was the royal Ombudsman) and the Riksdag was to appoint its own Parliamentary Ombudsman. The main purpose of the establishment of this new post as Ombudsman (Parliamentary Ombudsman) was to safeguard the rights of citizens by establishing a supervisory agency that was completely independent of the executive. However, it seemed quite natural to model this new office on that of the Chancellor of Justice. Like the Chancellor of Justice, therefore, the Ombudsman was to be a prosecutor whose task was to supervise the application of the laws by judges and civil servants. In the words of the 1809 Instrument of Government, the Riksdag was to appoint a man “known for his knowledge of the law and exemplary probity” as Parliamentary Ombudsman. In other words his duties were to focus on protection of the rights of citizens. For instance the Parliamentary Ombudsman was to encourage uniform application of the law and indicate legislative obscurities. His work was to take the form of inspections and inquiries into complaints. Complaints played a relatively insignificant role to begin with. During the first century of the existence of the Office, the total number of complaints amounted to around 8,000.

Initially, the role of a Parliamentary Ombudsman could be characterised as that of a prosecutor. Cases set in motion by the Ombudsman were either shelved with no action being taken or resulted in prosecution. Eventually, however, routines evolved which meant that prosecution was waived for minor transgressions and an admonition was issued instead. This development was acknowledged by the Riksdag in 1915 by its inclusion of a specific right to waive prosecution in the instructions for the Parliamentary Ombudsman. Until the adoption of the 1975 instructions, these provisions on an Ombudsman’s right to waive prosecution in cases involving transgressions that were not of major consequence provided the only formal basis for the expression of criticism. In the cases where an official could not be charged with any punishable error and therefore there were no grounds for a decision to waive prosecution, the expression of criticism or advice on the part of the Ombudsman was based only the usages that had evolved over the years. These practices were appraised and approved by the Riksdag in 1964.

The decision in 1975 to abolish the special right to waive prosecution was linked to the simultaneous reform of official accountability, which involved among other things major curtailment of the legal responsibility of public officials for their actions. In this context it was considered that there was no longer any need for the Parliamentary Ombudsmen to have the right to waive prosecution. Instead it was stipulated that in inquiries into cases the Ombudsmen were to be subject to the regulations that already applied to public prosecutors with regard to prosecution and the right to waive prosecution.

The development of the role of the Ombudsman institution described here has resulted in a gradual shift in the thrust of these activities from a punitive to an advisory and consultative function. The task of forestalling error and general endeavours to ensure the correct application of the law have taken precedence over the role of prosecutor.

Some years in the history of JO

1809  The Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsmen was established in connection with the adoption of the Instrument of Government in 1809.

1810  The first Parliamentary Ombudsman (JO), Lars Augustin Mannerheim, were elected.

1905  A Military Ombudsman (MO) were established to supervise the military authorities.

1941  The election period for the Ombudsmen (JO & MO) were extended from one year to four years.

1957  The Parliamentary Ombudsmen was given the power to supervise local government authorities.

1967  The office of the Military Ombudsman (MO) were abolished and the number of Parliamentary Ombudsmen (JO) were increased to three.

1975  The number of Parliamentary Ombudsmen (JO) were increased to four

Last updated at 2023-03-24