Fact Sheet 5 - Investigations and Section 15B of the Ombudsman Act 1973

Difference between enquiries and investigations

Not all complaints to the Victorian Ombudsman (VO) warrant an investigation. Section 13A of the Ombudsman Act 1973 allows VO to conduct enquiries to:

  • determine whether a matter may be resolved informally
  • make enquiries to determine whether a complaint needs to be further investigated

The ‘informal resolution’ process is used in dealing with the majority of complaints. In this process, VO may ask public bodies to provide information or assistance to resolve the matter informally: public bodies must assist VO in the conduct of an enquiry. (See Fact Sheet 3 and Fact Sheet 4 for further information.)

The Ombudsman may decide to commence a formal investigation if the matter is not resolved

Section 15B — Investigation of complaints

Section 15B of the Ombudsman Act states that: "… the Ombudsman may conduct an investigation under this Act on a complaint."

Powers during a formal investigation

The Ombudsman generally relies on the co-operation of public bodies and witnesses when conducting investigations. For example when inviting a witness to attend for interview or seeking the assistance of a public body in providing documents.
 
In some instances however, it may be prudent for the Ombudsman to use the coercive powers available to her under the Ombudsman Act to compel a witness or a public body to assist her investigation.
 
Listed below are examples of the coercive powers available to the Ombudsman along with some of the processes associated with an Ombudsman investigation:
  • The Ombudsman may summons witnesses, require the production of documents and take evidence under oath or affirmation. The provisions of sections 17, 18, 19, 20 and 20A of the Evidence (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1958, as in force immediately before their repeal, apply to Ombudsman investigations..
  • Investigations are conducted in private. The Ombudsman or her delegates may conduct an investigation in such manner as deemed fit.
  • For the purposes of an investigation, the Ombudsman is able to override certain privileges and secrecy obligations which would usually protect disclosure of information.
  • The Ombudsman or her delegates may enter an authority’s premises to inspect the premises or anything therein.
  • It is an offence to obstruct the Ombudsman or her delegates.
In certain circumstances the Ombudsman may decide to discontinue an investigation. When this occurs, the Ombudsman will inform relevant parties of the decision.

Interviews

The aim of an interview is to obtain first-hand information about the issue to assist an investigation. The fact that officers of a department or other persons are interviewed does not necessarily imply that their conduct is in question, even where the complaint is about the conduct of an individual officer.
 
No conclusions are made at the time of the interview. 

Completion of a formal investigation

Before the conclusions of an investigation are finalised a number of things may occur.

Where the Ombudsman’s report of the investigation makes adverse comments about an individual or public body, the relevant sections of the draft report are sent to the relevant person/public body giving them the opportunity to respond to the Ombudsman’s preliminary conclusions and recommendations. The Ombudsman is required to fairly set out the person’s or public body’s response to her adverse comments in his final report.

When the report is finalised the Ombudsman:

  • must provide the report to the head of the relevant public body
  • can table the report in Parliament making it a public document.

The Ombudsman must provide a copy of her report to the relevant Minister and may also provide a copy to the Premier.

 

Please note: This document is intended as a guide only. For this reason the information contained herein should not be relied on as legal advice or regarded as a substitute for legal advice in individual cases. To the maximum extent permitted by the law, The Victorian Ombudsman is not liable to you for any loss or damage suffered as a result of reliance on this document. For the most up-to-date versions of cited Acts, please refer to www.legislation.vic.gov.au.

 
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Contact Details

Victorian Ombudsman
Level 2
570 Bourke Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Phone                     03 9613 6222
Toll free                  1800 806 314
Fax                         03 9602 4761
TTY                        133 677 or
                               1800 555 677
Interpreter service  131 450