The Síndic de Greuges de Catalunya (ombudsman of Catalonia) as we know it today is a recent institution, but its roots are clearly found in medieval Catalonia, namely in the assemblees de pau i treva ("peace and truce assemblies") and in the provisors de greuges ("judges of complaints"). The modern institution models on that of the Swedish ombudsman, a post created in 1809 as a Parliamentary commissioner in charge of co-ordinating citizen complaints about the wrong conduct of the Administration and of trying to redress this conduct and to inform Parliament.

During the second half of the 20th century, this institution was exported to most democratic countries. Since the Spanish Constitution, the new ombudsman institutions nearly always took up the defence of the fundamental rights of citizens, and in this way the have been associated to the international movement for the defence of Human Rights. The Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia provided for the creation of an Office of the ombudsman of Catalonia which would receive the name of Síndic de Greuges (lit. "Broker of Complaints"). In 1984 the Parliament of Catalonia finally approved the Law that regulated the institution of the Síndic de Greuges and its mission to defend the fundamental rights and public liberties of citizens. To this effect, the Síndic was granted the power to oversee the Public Administration of the Generalitat de Catalunya and all local Catalonian bodies.


Assemblees de Pau i Treva

During the waves of social quarrels and fights in Western Europe a little before the year 1000, the institution Peace of God was founded in France to provide a refuge for defenceless folk. This institution soon extended to the south, specifically to Catalonia. At the same time the Truce of God also extended itself, laying down the prohibition to fight on holy days or during specific periods of the liturgical year.

In 1027, under the impulse of Abbot Oliba of the monastery of Ripoll, these protecting measures were consolidated through the promulgation of a Constitució de Pau i Treva. The first of these constitutions was approved in Catalonia during the ensuing decades. The assemblies that approved these constitutions - the Assemblees de Pau i Treva ("Peace and Truce Assemblies") -, with the support of the respective Count, took on the right to impose material punishments to those who would not respect the Constitutions. Thus the power of the lords was limited and those guilty of actions against individual persons were punished. They therefore constituted a system to control the excesses of those in authority. For this reason, the Assemblees de Pau i Treva are considered the first predecessors of the institution of the Síndic de Greuges.


Els greuges

Later, at the time of the Catalonian States General, the satisfaction of claims or complaints of the inhabitants of the country - els greuges - became progressively a highlight in the States' agenda. There was a greuge de Cort when a Catalonian citizen had been adversely affected or harmed by the king or his officials, even while discharging their judicial duties. The concept gradually expanded, so that with time almost any type of harm could be classed as a greuge, provided it could be founded on the transgression of a right or commitment adopted by the king.

The greuges generals - those affecting the common wealth of the whole Principality - had to be dealt with by the totality of the States, introducing changes into the legislation in agreement with the king. On the other hand, those complaints which did not affect the general interest and which could be brought by individual persons or municipal corporations or others, were considered greuges particulars. The king used to rule about those individual complaints during the States' meeting, whether directly or commissioning a judge to put forward a solution to the Royal Council.


The provisors de greuges

At the States General held in Perpignan in 1350 during the kingdom of Pere el Cerimoniós, a list of complaints (memorial de greuges) is for the first time presented in a unitary and articulated way. But it was king Martí l'Humà who, in 1409, institutionalised a procedure to satisfy complaints, through the creation of a peer commission made up of nine delegates of the king and nine of the arms or braços de Cort. These delegates are known as jutges de greuges or provisors de greuges (i.e., judges of complaints). They judged each case in a collegiate way and their sentence would be incorporated as an act or Juí de Cort, even if it was often issued many months later.

Since 1419 the commission was made up of nine provisors only, of which three were nominated by the king and a further two by each of the three arms: the Church, the nobles and the citizens. In those days the representatives of the citizen arm were often given the names of síndics or brokers. Hence, two of the síndics were chosen by their colleagues as provisors de greuges in order to form part of the commission. Thus it can be said that already in the Middle Ages there existed a number of síndics de greuges. Their mission was not exactly that of today's Síndic de Greuges, as those used to act collegiately and pass sentences. Nevertheless, there are important similarities on which to found the recovery of this name for the modern institutions, namely that citizens presented their complaints before the plenary citizen arm, which incorporated many of those complaints into the memorial de greuges or list of complaints presented to the king and which had to be solved by the commission. In this commission, the two officials who were provisors de greuges would normally defend the interest of citizens who had presented their complaint, and in this sense they can be considered precursors of the modern institution of the Síndic de Greuges. As Professor Font Rius pointed out, both institutions share in the common principle of the self-responsibility of the public power and the Administration for faults through which harm is inflicted on individuals.

The institution of the provisor de greuges founded by king Martí l'Humà in 1409 disappeared in 1716 after the Decret de Nova Planta, as indeed did the rest of Catalonian public institutions. To symbolise its recovery in 1984, the Síndic de Greuges chose king Martí l'Humà as the emblem of the new Institution.


The ombudsman

In 1809 Sweden approved a liberal Constitution which provided for the creation of a Parliamentary commissioner in charge of receiving citizen complaints about the wrong conduct of the Administration. This commissioner was named "the ombudsman", a name which literally means "the man who carries out the transactions". His duty was to ensure the observance of the laws and to get civil servants and the king to discharge their duties for the benefit of citizens. Initially, he would charge the offending civil servants in court, but as time went on, he limited himself to admonish offenders and to inform Parliament once a year, a report which soon obtained huge circulation and made a strong impact on public opinion.

For more than a century it remained a specific institution of Sweden. In 1919 it was implanted in Finland and it was not until 1953 that a third country, Denmark, also adopted it. From then on this institution has been gradually adopted by numerous countries, and its dissemination continues even to this day. Countries use varied names to refer to it. In Great Britain he is the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Administration (1967), while in France, the Médiateur de la République (1973).

In 1978 the Spanish Constitution also dealt with the figure of the ombudsman, giving it the name of Defensor del Pueblo (People's Defender) and introduced an important innovation: for the first time it received the commission to defend the fundamental rights of citizens. From now on, practically all the ombudsman institutions created world-wide have also received the commission to defend human rights. Thus the figure of the ombudsman is linked to the international movement which defends Human Rights, which started with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights approved by the United Nations in 1948, and which has been strengthened, specially since 1966 after the signature of the International Agreements on Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Some Statutes of Autonomy of the Spanish state also took up the figure of the ombudsman, entrusting him or her the commission to defend the fundamental rights, using specific names, some of which had a long tradition, like that of the Justicia de Aragón.


The Síndic de Greuges

Upon the latest advent of democracy, the Congrés de Cultura Catalana held in 1977 suggested the name of Síndic de Greuges for a parliamentary commissioner in charge of "the defence of the rights of citizens and the supervision of the Administration". The Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia, which was approved in 1979, made provisions for the appointment of a "Síndic de Greuges for the defence of the fundamental rights and the public liberties of citizens". Finally, on 20 March 1984 the Parliament of Catalonia passed the Law that regulated this new Institution commissioned with the defence of "the fundamental rights and the public liberties of citizens", and to this end granted him or her the power to oversee the public Administration of the Generalitat and the local entities of Catalonia.

In 1989 the Law was modified to enable the Síndic de Greuges to appoint an assistant in charge of the defence of the rights of children.

Catalonia's new Statute of Autonomy, which reinforces and grants greater competencies to the Síndic de Greuges (Catalan Ombudsman) institution, was approved in July, 2006. As of then, the Catalan Ombudsman would supervise, on an exclusive basis, the activity of the Generalitat (Autonomous Catalan) Administration, and that of affiliated or dependent public an private organizations, as well as that of private companies that render public services or perform activities of general or universal interest.

In December, 2008, and pursuant to the terms of the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia, the new Catalan Ombudsman Act was ratified, as a law for the basic development of the Statute, as is stipulated in its article 62.2.

Title I of the Catalan Ombudsman Act establishes the law's dual purpose: regulate the institution in accordance with the terms of the Statute of Autonomy and designate the Catalan Ombudsman as the mechanism for the prevention of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, as is called for in the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention.