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Author:  Etienne [ Mon Jan 09, 2006 12:55 pm ]
Post subject:  Ombudsman

What can you do if you think the panel’s decision is wrong? The answer is, probably, not very much.

The decision of the appeal panel is meant to be binding. It is meant to be the final stage of the process.

What about the ombudsman?

As a matter of law the ombudsman cannot question the merits of a panel’s decision, provided that it has been arrived at properly. He will only act if there was a fault in the process leading up to the decision, and that fault was so significant as to cause an injustice.

Appellants sometimes complain that the panel took no notice of their “huge mitigating circumstances” or “strong academic evidence”. On investigation, however, it often becomes clear that the panel did indeed consider these points, but decided either that the circumstances did not fully explain the shortfall in marks, or that the academic evidence was not sufficiently persuasive. Provided that the panel has properly considered all the arguments, the ombudsman will take the view that they were entitled to reach the decision they did.

It usually takes months for the ombudsman to reach his decision, and, if you are successful, you will be offered a re-hearing in front of a different panel. The majority of complaints do not succeed.

In 2003 there were 47 complaints to the ombudsman relating to all Buckinghamshire appeals. The outcomes were as follows:
Maladministration: 0
Local settlement: 8 (usually meaning the County Council decided to offer a re-hearing)
No maladministration: 34
Ombudsman’s discretion: 5 (meaning the complaint was not pursued)

The figures for 2004 were
Complaints: 29
Maladministration: 0
Local settlement: 8 (meaning the County Council decided to offer a re-hearing)
No maladministration: 16
Ombudsman’s discretion: 5 (meaning the complaint was not pursued)

I have not seen the figures for 2005. The number of appeals went up last year following the abolition of the Review Panel, so I would expect the number of complaints to have been proportionately higher.

If you have serious concerns about how your case was handled, I suggest you make a complaint in the first instance to The Clerk to the Independent Appeal Panel, County Hall, who will investigate whether the correct procedures were followed, and respond quite speedily. (NB: This is the senior person in the appeals office, not the clerk who attended your appeal.)

If you remain dissatisfied, you still have the option of taking your case to the ombudsman. If you do this, the County Council and possibly the panel will be invited to comment on your complaint. Their comments will be sent to you and you will be invited to respond. Your response will sometimes be sent to the County Council / panel for further comment, in which case you will be invited to respond again. Eventually the ombudsman reaches a “determination”.

To sum up:
1. There has to be significant procedural fault. The ombudsman is not there to reconsider your case just because you disagree with the decision.
2. It is usually a very long process.
3. A written complaint to the Clerk to the IAP, stating why you believe your case was handled incorrectly, will result in a quick investigation which may be sufficient to satisfy you.

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