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Challenging the ombudsman: are review processes adequate?

Researchers: Dr Richard Kirkham

Project overview

The main objective of this project is to enhance understanding of the means by which ombudsman schemes are publicly required to defend their decision-making, and to explore the options for making accountability of the sector more convincing to the user. The findings will address an important gap in both the research and policy-making literature on administrative justice through three separate empirical studies on discrete aspects of the ombudsman’s accountability structure:

  • Judicial review
  • Transparency initiatives
  • Internal review.

As well as mapping the accountability landscape that surrounds ombudsman schemes, the central research questions are:

  • Does judicial review influence ombudsman practice, and if so how?
  • Do published ombudsman decisions evidence procedural fairness and consistency in decision-making?
  • How robust are existing options for internal review of ombudsman decisions?
  • Are there alternative options for organising the scrutiny of ombudsman decision-making?

These questions matter because the ombudsman sector has become a central component of the administrative justice system, yet is prone to strong user critique. Various strategies have been developed by ombudsman schemes to improve accountability, but as yet, no independent study has been conducted into the scrutiny of decision-making standards through challenges both internal and external. An output of this project will be the construction of a publicly accessible website containing a legal database on ombudsman schemes.


  • Dr Richard Kirkham
    University of Sheffield

  • Ash Patel
    Programme Head, Justice
    Nuffield Foundation
  • Director, Justice
    Nuffield Foundation

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