Ministry of Justice made administrative error but it was not unreasonable

Justice & Courts
Ombudsmen Act 1975
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Ombudsmen Act 1975
Ministry of Justice
Dame Beverley Wakem
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Whether, having been made aware of an administrative error, the Ministry of Justice’s decisions and actions were reasonable—Chief Ombudsman of the view that the Ministry did not act unreasonably

The complainant believed her partner had been deprived of his right to appeal a decision issued by the District Court because the Ministry made an administrative error when it released the Judgment. That is, rather than address and post the Judgment to the complainant, the Ministry addressed and posted it to her partner. As a result the complainant was not aware that the Judgment had been issued until four months after the date of the decision, by which time the period for appealing the decision had expired. The complainant asked whether the Ombudsman had jurisdiction under the Ombudsmen Act 1975 to investigate the administrative acts of employees employed by the Ministry in its Courts Division; and in the event that this mandate to investigate is confirmed, whether the action of the Ministry’s employee in this matter was administratively unreasonable.

The Chief Ombudsman noted that the Ministry accepted it had made an administrative error by not posting the letter to the complainant. The Chief Ombudsman also noted that as this was an ‘administrative act’ and an Ombudsman had jurisdiction to consider this matter.

However, having determined that the administrative error was made, the Chief Ombudsman then went on to consider whether the error was administratively unreasonable. Having taken into account the rules on the Registrar’s role on receipt of the Judgement, it was clear that although the Judgement was sent to the ‘party and to the ‘correct address for service’, given the complainant’s known role as her partner’s representative the Chief Ombudsman agreed that at the least it would have been wise to send a copy of the Judgment to the complainant. However, in the Chief Ombudsman’s opinion the actions taken were not unreasonable. The letter was sent to the correct address where the complainant and her partner live. The Chief Ombudsman noted that she could only speculate that someone opened the letter, and that person did not tell the complainant (or forgot to tell) that the Judgment had been issued. In the Chief Ombudsman’s view the actions (or oversight) of the recipient at the address for service, played a significant part in why this matter was not brought to appeal in time.

The Ministry has apologised to the complainant for addressing the envelope to the complainant’s partner (even though that action was consistent with rule 11.14(5)) and the Chief Ombudsman considered that this was a good outcome in itself. The Ministry ‘s apology meant that no further action was warranted on this complaint.

This case note is published under the authority of the Ombudsmen Rules 1989. It sets out an Ombudsman’s view on the facts of a particular case. It should not be taken as establishing any legal precedent that would bind an Ombudsman in future.

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