On 8 November, the Parliament of the Republic of Lithuania enacted the amendment of the Law on Equal Treatment that introduces the highest standards of independence for the equality body in Lithuania. Amendments were initiated by the Office of Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson and will come into force from 1 January 2017.
From 2017, the full name of the position will be the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson of the Republic of Lithuania. The main changes include competence requirement for the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson and clearly regulated hitherto unregulated Ombudsperson’s impartiality and independence.
The amended law foresees that the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson must obtain a university master degree in law. The required period of professional experience – service in legal profession or at state and municipal institutions or agencies – is increased from five to ten years. Such amendment aligns requirements for competence of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson with requirements for other Ombudspersons in Lithuania appointed by Parliament.
The unlimited number of terms of office is repealed. To ensure Ombudsperson’s impartiality and independence the law provides a limited number of terms of office. The same person cannot be appointed as the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson for more than two successive 5-year terms of office. Moreover, before swearing an oath to the State of Lithuania the person must halt his/hers participation in a political party till the end of his/hers term of office. Breach of oath is additionally included to the list of reasons to release the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson from office.
Amended law will introduce promotional activities as the official, legally regulated function of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson. This is an important step, given that up to now, all preventive and educational measures and projects have been implemented on a regular basis exclusively on the initiative of the Ombudsperson. From 2017, the Office of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson will be identified as a combined quasi-judicial and promotional type equality body.
In addition, amended law equalizes time limits for complaint investigation with time limits for investigations of other Ombudspersons in Lithuania. A complaint must be investigated and a reply must be given to the complainant within three months from the day of receipt of the complaint (one month was provided in prior law’s version). If Ombudsperson refuses to examine the complaint, it must be returned to the complainant not later than within 10 days (15 days were provided in prior law’s version).
For more, see the website of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson.
Standards for Equality Bodies
Equinet welcomes this move towards high standards of independence. According to Equinet’s working paper on developing standards for equality bodies, equality bodies must have complete independence so that, without interference from any quarter, they can, in accordance with their legal mandate:
- Implement their powers as they deem most appropriate;
- Identify their own priorities and take positions on and respond to these issues as they see fit;
- Communicate an understanding of equality, diversity and non-discrimination that accords with their own analysis;
- and Choose how they manage and deploy their human and financial resources, within the requirements of relevant labour legislation and good financial management.
Our working paper on standards also looks at the importance of an equality body’s mandate, effectiveness and institutional architecture. Read more here.