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ombudsman news

issue 2

February 2001

hearings

In common with many other bodies, over the last months we have been paying particular attention to developments in the implementation of the Human Rights Act.

As a whole, our process of investigating complaints and reaching an appropriate resolution of them is designed to take account of the Human Rights Act and the general principles of "natural justice". The most familiar aspect of the ombudsman process is that we examine cases on the papers alone, rather than by requiring the parties to present their cases in person, and we adopt a largely informal approach to the way we gather evidence from all the parties involved. The general result of this is that anyone involved in a complaint will have been given ample opportunity to put their points across before we reach any resolution or determination.

Nevertheless, it has always been our practice to request a hearing in specific cases, where we think it necessary to enable us to reach a decision. This practice will continue and we will carry on holding hearings with an appropriate degree of informality, taking into account the particular circumstances of the complaint. Additionally, either party to a complaint may ask us to consider whether a hearing should be granted.

We are establishing a regular schedule for hearings and will give firms general guidance on our procedures in the near future. We are, however, extremely grateful to those firms who have informed us that they only wish to request hearings in exceptional circumstances, rather than being reminded of the provisions for hearings in every single case. We therefore need only wait to see if the complainant in any particular case wants us to consider a request for a hearing.

Walter Merricks, chief ombudsman

ombudsman news gives general information on the position at the date of publication. It is not a definitive statement of the law, our approach or our procedure.

The illustrative case studies are based broadly on real-life cases, but are not precedents. Individual cases are decided on their own facts.