Who is the ombudsman?
Since May 2010, the ombudsman for Barcelona has been Maria Assumpció Vilà i Planas. The defender of the people of Barcelona was appointed unanimously by all municipal groups after a consultation process involving all the entities listed in the municipal entities register. She took office on 13 May 2010.
Vilà’s first term ended on 13 May 2015. On 15 January 2016, the City Council began the process of choosing a new ombudsman for the city. Between 15 January and 15 March, the entities registered in the General File of Citizens’ Entities submitted their nominations.
Following this process, between 16 March and 15 April, the residents of Barcelona and any institutions or associations not registered in the aforementioned File but legally established in the city were able to back their favoured candidate through an online portal opened by the City Council.
Eventually, after consulting with the different municipal groups, the city mayor, Ada Colau, put Vilà’s name forward to continue to be the ombudsman for Barcelona. She was re-elected in the Municipal Council plenary session of 1 July 2016, with the approval of all municipal groups (Barcelona en Comú, CiU, Ciutadans, ERC, PSC and PP), except the CUP, which abstained. The ombudsman took office again on 5 September 2016 as part of an event in the Saló de Cròniques in City Hall.
Almost all of Vilà’s career has been developed in the third sector. From 1980 until 2002, she managed various cancer-related volunteering teams in Barcelona and geriatric care departments in healthcare centres and residences. She was also the coordinator of the Barcelona Regional Unit of the Catalan Social Volunteering Federation and a member of its governing board.
Between 1980 and 2001, she worked as an executive and technical secretary at the Spanish Association Against Cancer (AECC). In 2002, she co-founded the Catalan League for Oncological Assistance, Oncolliga, which she managed between 2006 and 2010.
What’s more, the current ombudsman for Barcelona was the chair of the Catalan Round Table of Third Social Sector Organisations from 2005 to 2007. And between 2002 and 2010, she was the chair of the Catalan Social Volunteering Federation.
During her first term, the ombudsman took heed of her predecessor’s experience and proposals. Vilà continued on the path she had laid with the aim of better guaranteeing people’s rights and ensuring the principles of good administration were fulfilled. She also strived to speed up the case resolution process and improve the efficacy of decisions, while proposing equitable solutions and efficiency and social well-being improvements.
Looking to the next five years, Vilà believes the Ombudsman’s Office must be strengthened and consolidated, as well as becoming more accessible and effective in two areas. The first is defending fundamental rights and public freedoms, while the second is taking preventive action and mediating in relations between citizens and the City Council, in accordance with the European Charter for the Safeguarding of Human Rights in the City.
The ombudsman deems that complaints must be resolved in a timely manner, without obstructions or delays, and that the institution’s resolutions must be more effective. This means that the work channels between the City Council and the Ombudsman’s Office must improve considerably. Responses to information requests must reach the Ombudsman’s Office from municipal entities within 30 days. The Ombudsman’s Office must have full supervisory and investigative powers. And it must be granted free access to municipal services, facilities, files and computer applications.
During this term, the ombudsman plans to improve cooperation with human rights protection entities and intervention protocols with the Ombudsman’s Office of Catalonia, local ombudsmen and the state ombudsman.
Furthermore, collaborations will be initiated with public and private institutions that carry out general-interest activities and are linked to the contents of the European Charter for the Safeguarding of Human Rights in the City.
There are also plans to incorporate a gender perspective into the Ombudsman’s Office’s resolutions, in accordance with the provisions of the Catalan Parliament’s 2016 Equality Law and Barcelona City Council’s 2016–2020 Plan for Gender Justice, to ensure that they are equitable with regard to each person’s or group’s specific situation.
To carry out her duties, the ombudsman works with an assistant and a multidisciplinary team of advisers and technicians.
Assistant to the Ombudsman
The Municipal Council approved the appointment of Natàlia Ferré Giró as the new Assistant to the Ombudsman for Barcelona during the plenary session of 22 February 2019. She replaced Marino Villa, who occupied the role from 2005 until 2018.
Natàlia Ferré Giró (Reus, 1974) holds a bachelor’s degree in Law, a diploma in Crime Policy and a master’s degree in Alternative Conflict Management. She is a lawyer specialising in mediation, having received training in alternative conflict resolution techniques in Argentina: a pioneering country in the field of mediation.
In 2004, she founded Tarc: the first private mediation centre approved by the Government of Catalonia. She then founded ADDO Conflict Resolution in 2014: a firm specialising in conflict resolution and mediation of which she is a partner. Before being appointed as the Assistant to the Ombudsman for Barcelona, she was part of the Private Law Mediation Centre within the Government of Catalonia’s Justice Department. Ferré Giró also teaches mediation and negotiation at various universities, as well as within the public administration, professional associations and other organisations.