The Ombudsman is an independent State body that defends people whose fundamental rights were disrespected or who feel harmed by unfair or unlawful acts of the administration or other public authorities. Inspired by a Swedish Institution – the Ombudsman – the Portuguese Ombudsman was established in 1975 and acts as a link between people and power. Thus, it is a defender of Citizens and, at the same time, it is a promoter of a fair and effective public administration.
In Portugal, the Ombudsman is also the National Human Rights Institution, and has the responsibility to promote and defend human rights and to guarantee that the Portuguese State complies with the international conventions that are binding.
The Ombudsman is also a National Prevention Mechanism and must ensure that Portugal complies with the UN Convention and Protocols against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. It does so essentially through regular visits, without prior notice, to prisons and detention centers.
It has yet another unique characteristic: it is a one-person organ. That is, all the functions of the Ombudsman are constitutionally attributed to a person – in the present situation to Maria Lúcia Amaral – who is elected by the Parliament by a two-thirds majority. To carry her competences, the Ombudsperson has a team of about fifty jurists and a small administrative body – the Ombudsman’s services. The Ombudsman has a permanent seat in the Council of State, which is the highest body for political consultation of the President of the Republic
The Ombudsman can act on his own initiative, but as a rule it receives and analyses citizens’ complaints, listens to the entities concerned and seeks to deal with all matters quickly and informally. In this process, it has the power to request all information and to carry out the investigations and inquiries that it deems necessary, and may carry out inspection visits, without prior notice, to any sector of the Public Administration. Unjustified breach of the duty to cooperate constitutes a crime of disobedience.
The Ombudsman, however, does not have binding powers of decision. Its power lies in the good foundation of the positions it assumes and in its ability to mediate. It may direct to the competent bodies the suggestions or recommendations that it deems necessary in order to prevent and repair injustices. It may also request the review of the constitutionality or legality of legal norms before the Constitutional Court.
All Portuguese, foreign, or stateless persons, whether natural or legal, may file a complaint for Portuguese public authorities’ actions or omissions that they deem illegal. Complaints to the Ombudsman do not depend on direct, personal and legitimate interest or on any time limits.
Acts or omissions of the public authorities, in particular in the scope of activity of Public Administration services (central, regional and local), Armed and Security Forces, Public Institutes and Independent Administrative Entities. Public or public-owned companies, concessionaires of public services or the exploitation of goods in the public domain, such as TAP, EDP or CTT, may also be targeted.
Conflicts between private parties, situations where there has not been prior interpellation of the competent public authority and cases that relate to the administration of justice, unless there is an unwarranted delay in the judicial decision, without prejudice to prior intervention by the Superior Councils. Anonymous complaints are not also analysed.
In the above situations, the Ombudsman can not intervene.
Check here the list to find the entity to whom you must first address.
Complaints can be submitted by letter, telephone, fax, email or by completing a specific form available on the website. They may also be presented in person at the Ombudsman’s premises or at any public prosecutor’s office which shall forward them to the Ombudsman’s office. There are also three free telephone hotlines specifically addressed to the Persons with Disabilities, Older Persons and Children.
* Identification of the complainant (no anonymous complaints are accepted), accompanied by the address and telephone contact;
* Clear and succinct presentation of the reasons for the complaint and the targeted entity;
* Explanation of the initiatives already taken with the entities complained against and the answers received;
* All possible evidence (for example, documents, photographs, witnesses).
No. The complaint to the Ombudsman is entirely free of charge and there is no need for a lawyer. The functioning of the institution is financed by the State Budget, with an annual allocation of around 5 million euros.
Yes. The claimant is always given an answer or an orientation. The response time does not depend, however, solely on the Ombudsman, who will intervene with the competent authority to obtain information and to suggest solutions. In more recent years, 85% of cases have been concluded in less than a year and 60% in less than 90 days. If the complaint does not fall within the Ombudsman’s competence, the citizen is informed and, whenever possible, forwarded to the competent authorities.