New watchdog to handle complaints
A new watchdog will reform how complaints against official bodies are handled, the Assembly has heard.
The Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsperson's Office (NIPSO) will tackle allegations of maladministration in organisations like health trusts, schools, universities and further education colleges.
It will combine the powers and remit of the current Assembly Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Complaints.
Ulster Unionist MLA Mike Nesbitt said the NIPSO would simplify and strengthen the mechanisms for providing redress.
He said: "People in Northern Ireland expect and deserve good service from all our public bodies."
Under new legislation complaints to the Assembly Ombudsman will no longer have to go through an MLA.
Mr Nesbitt added: "The Bill gives members of the public direct access to the new NIPSO for all complaints.
"A successful complainant will be able to take the NIPSO's report to the county court where a public body does not follow the NIPSO's recommendation."
The NIPSO's remit would not include public sector employment issues.
Assembly Ombudsman for Northern Ireland Dr Tom Frawley has welcomed the development.
He said: " The office will provide a means of redress for individuals who believe they have suffered injustice as a result of failures in public services and will also be a key office of the Assembly with a role in holding government and public officials to account for the performance of public service."
DUP MLA David McIlveen said : "As far as the vast majority of the public out there are concerned they probably won't see a vast difference in what happens but, I think procedurally this piece of work tidies up a lot of loose ends and I think it is something we should broadly welcome.
"Immediate priority is to get the Ombudsperson in place.
Bronwyn McGahon said Sinn Fein supported the "general principles" of the new legislation.