The Parliamentary Ombudsman meets with the Director of the European Fundamental Rights Agency

The Parliamentary Ombudsman, Judge Emeritus Joseph Zammit McKeon, met with the Director of the European Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), Ms Sirpa Rautio, to discuss the establishment of a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) in Malta.

For years, the Office of the Ombudsman has advocated for the establishment of an NHRI in Malta, emphasising that the Ombudsman could naturally extend its current remit to include a broader human rights mandate. This proposal, submitted to the Government in November last year, aligns with the practices of many European countries where ombudsman institutions also function as NHRIs. The Ombudsman Act 1995 already empowers the Office to investigate complaints regarding unfair, oppressive, or improperly discriminatory acts or omissions, of Government and the public administration, thus laying a solid foundation for such an expansion.

The Ombudsman updated the FRA Director on the two bills that were presented by the Government in Parliament in 2019, namely the Bill to establish the Human Rights and Equality Commission and the Equality Bill. The dissolution of the Thirteenth Legislature on February 20, 2022, resulted in the lapse of all pending legislative items, including the Equality Bill and the Human Rights and Equality Commission Bill. The subject matter of these two Bills has not been re-proposed.

Due to the lack of tangible progress on the agenda over the past two years, the Office of the Ombudsman has again proposed integrating the functions of an NHRI within its existing structure—a move both practical and necessary under the circumstances.

In January of this year, the Office of the Ombudsman applied for and was subsequently accepted as an associate member of the European Network of National Human Rights Institutions (ENNHRI). Following a meeting with ENNHRI, the Office of the Ombudsman requested ENNHRI to review the Ombudsman Act 1995 and analyse the act in respect to the Paris Principles. The analysis by ENNHRI is currently being reviewed internally and will eventually be presented to the Government

Ms Rautio expressed the view that it is beneficial to utilise the mandate and structures that are already in place. Furthermore, it is not advisable to place human rights under the umbrella of an Equality Body.

There was also a discussion on the application of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and issues of jurisdiction, its awareness, and the issues arising out of Court jurisdictions.

Finally, the parties touched upon the monitoring of EU funds.  It was agreed that more training was needed in various aspects of NHRIs, in fact, an exploratory meeting is being planned to discuss the different structures and how to make them more efficient.

Ms Rautio was accompanied by the Director of the Office, Ms Susan Kennefick, and the Parliamentary Ombudsman was accompanied by Mr Paul Borg, Director General, and Dr Monica Borg Galea, Head of Investigations.

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