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Statement by the Ombudsman for Equality to the Ministry of Justice on the judicial administration agency report (VN/6598/2018; TAS 118/2019, issued on 22 May 2019)

Judicial administration agency report

On 12 December 2018, the Ministry of Justice appointed Master of Laws with court training Juhani Jokinen as the rapporteur to assess the possible establishment of an agency that would consist of the decentralised agencies operating under the ministry.

The objective was to assess the options of combining the operations of small and functionally independent actors in the administrative branch together in an administrative sense while maintaining the fairly independent status of the decentralised agencies operating within the administrative branch, which is based on legislation and international regulations, and without causing any changes to their duties in connection with this change. The decentralised agencies referred to in the brief were the European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control, affiliated with the United Nations (HEUNI), the Ombudsman for Children, the Safety Investigation Authority, the Ombudsman for Equality, the Intelligence Ombudsman, the Data Protection Ombudsman, and the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman.

The rapporteur states that there is reason to arrange the structure of how the administrative and support functions of the decentralised agencies are performed in a way that will emphasise the independence of the decentralised agencies from the politically controlled ministry and that will also enable the performance of administrative and support tasks in an appropriate and effective manner. This way, all such administrative and support tasks or the functions related to their preparation that would be appropriate to transfer from the Ministry of Justice to a lower administrative level would be transferred to the agency responsible for the administrative and support services of the decentralised agencies. In the same manner, the administrative tasks that are currently performed by the decentralised agencies and that could be performed in a centralised and large-scale manner without endangering the independence and autonomy of said agencies would also be transferred to the agency responsible for administrative matters.

The rapporteur presents two alternative models for the arrangement of the decentralised agencies’ common administrative and support tasks.

  1. In the parent agency model, the Office of the Data  Protection Ombudsman would be turned into an agency whose independent administrative unit would provide the assigned administrative and support services to all decentralised agencies.
  2. In the agency hotel model, an entirely new agency would be established for handling the administrative and support tasks of the decentralised agencies.

Links: - Judicial administration agency report (available in Finnish). Publications of the Ministry of Justice, Reports and guidelines 2019:11.

Statement by the Ombudsman for Equality

The starting point of the report was that the ways of combining the administrative and support tasks of the decentralised agencies would be assessed in a way that their independent status would not be compromised, but the realisation of the proposed measure would lead to this very situation. This would signify an entirely different direction than what has been recommended by international actors, such as the European Commission and the Commissioner for Human Rights of the European Council, in their recommendations for how the member states should develop the status of their equality bodies.

The report strongly emphasises the need for developing the status of the Office of the Data Protection Ombudsman and increasing the emphasis placed on data protection matters. This cannot be the justification for any decisions that would be used to weaken the independence of, for example, the Ombudsman for Equality.  As a law enforcement authority, the Ombudsman for Equality cannot – without compromising his impartiality – be made an integral part of the same organisation that it is supposed to supervise.

When the different functions of these agencies are taken into account, this type of centralisation will not lead to the formation of a functionally appropriate whole, which has been the stated aim of these various agency-related reforms. Not only would the collegial decision-making processes compromise the autonomy of the agencies specified in the report, but the different fields that said agencies operate in and the different types of expertise required in these operations would limit the matters that a collegial body could even be used to process.

The centralisation of administrative matters would not likely result in any large centralisation-related benefits, as the resources that have currently been allocated for administrative matters in the decentralised agencies are already scarce. The Ombudsman for Equality feels that the starting point should be the centralisation of specific support tasks and securing the availability of HR and financial administration-related expert services. The assessment work should have included other options as well (for example, transferring some duties from the Ministry of Justice to Palkeet, the Finnish Government Shared Services Centre for Finance and HR).

The report does not go into any great detail on how these changes would affect the staff involved. For example, it does not specify how many persons might be transferred from the decentralised agencies to the administrative agency. It should be noted that, at least in the case of the Ombudsman for Equality, the Ombudsman has very few employees who focus solely on administrative tasks. The other decentralised agencies must also continue to include staff who focus solely on administrative tasks.  Otherwise the result will be that the experts in the decentralised agencies will be forced to dedicate more of their working time to administrative tasks. In this case, the starting point of the report, that smaller agencies should be allowed to focus more on the duties with the most substance, would not be realised, but the opposite would be instead.