New Zealand Law Society - Office of the Ombudsman fights to protect name

Office of the Ombudsman fights to protect name

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The Office of the Ombudsman has had to spend $110,000 trying to protect its name – despite it being enshrined in law.

The name is recognised in the Ombudsmen Act 1975 - section 28A(1) prohibits use of the name “Ombudsman” in connection with any business, trade, or occupation, or the provision of any service, without the prior written consent of the Chief Ombudsman.

In 2016 Financial Services Complaints Ltd applied for just that. The Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier turned that request down and his decision was upheld in the High Court on judicial review.

In a report to the Officers of Parliament Committee the Office of the Ombudsman revealed the cost of the action.

“The Chief Ombudsman has found it necessary in the past year to enter into litigation to defend the exclusivity of this title, incurring costs of $110,000. We understand and support these efforts. We would not want to see the special and trusted “mana” of this Officer of Parliament diluted by indiscriminate use of the title. We therefore support the reimbursement of the litigation costs incurred in defending the title.”

In a judgment released in February, the Court of Appeal allowed Financial Services Complaints’ appeal to go ahead.

That judgment noted:

“We have concluded the appeal should be allowed on two grounds, namely that the Chief Ombudsman:

(a) Applied a policy that improperly fettered the exercise of his discretion.

(b) Failed to take into account a relevant consideration, namely the effect different treatment of similar schemes in the same sector might have in terms of causing confusion and reducing public confidence in the integrity of the Complaints Ltd scheme.”

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