The Ombudsperson in Portugal

We find in the early 70s of the last century the first contributions to the creation of the Ombudsman in our country. José Magalhães Godinho, Vasco da Fernandes Gama and Mário Raposo were the persons who defended the inception, in Portugal, of an institution that, similarly to what happened in Northern Europe, would promote the human rights, especially in the relationships between the citizens and the exercise of public powers.

However, it was almost one year after the Carnation Revolution (a democratic revolution), that the Portuguese Government published the Decree-Law No. 212/75, of April 21, a juridical instrument that created the Ombudsman in our legal order. But, more than a legal institute, the Ombudsman wan the soundness of an unipersonal, independent, irremovable and democratic State body that, since 1976, has constitutional consolidation, in its (then) Article 24 (today, Article 23), which its content was as follows:

Article 24

«1 – Citizens may submit complaints against actions or omissions by the public authorities to the Ombudsman, who shall assess them without the power to take decisions and shall send the competent bodies such recommendations as may be necessary in order to prevent or make good any injustices.
2 – The activity of the Ombudsman is independent of grace or legal remedies provided for in the Constitution and laws.
3 – The Ombudsman is appointed by the Parliament.»

Nevertheless, just prior to the approval of the Constitution and pursuant to Decree-Law No. 212/75, it had already been appointed, by Order of the President – published in the Diário do Governo [Government Gazette], 2nd Series, December 31st, 1975 –, the first Ombudsman, Lieutenant Colonel Manuel da Costa Brás, which began to visit Denmark and France, in order to understand how similar institutions of these countries worked. The acquired knowledge was fundamental to the creation, in our country, the Ombudsman’s Office, a structure of technical and administrative support that was regulated by the Decree-Law No. 189-A/76, March 15. Two days after, Lieutenant Colonel Manuel da Costa Brás took office as Ombudsman, State body that he represented until his appointment as Minister of Internal Affairs, on July 23th, 1976.

On the eve of its half-century anniversary, on 15 November 2023 the Ombudsman has moved its headquarters to Palácio Vilalva, located between Rua Marquês de Fronteira and Largo de São Sebastião da Pedreira, in one of Lisbon’s central hubs. This fulfils a long-standing ambition to place the state institution created to defend citizens’ rights and thus promote better public administration in an accessible, central and visible location in the Portuguese capital, similar to its European counterparts.

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