Monday 9 February 2009
In a short report released today, Monday 9 February 2009, the UK Commons' Justice Committee approves the appointment of Mr Christopher Graham as the new Information Commissioner. However, the Committee notes that steps need to be taken now by the Ministry of Justice to ensure that the Information Commissioner has the resources to clear the backlog of freedom of information cases in reasonable time.
The out-going Commissioner, Richard Thomas, made the compelling point in evidence to the Committee that he has 53 caseworkers dealing with freedom of information complaints from across the entire public sector, compared, for instance, to the 28 staff needed by the Ministry of Justice to deal with its incoming FOI requests alone.
The Justice Committee has repeatedly argued that the Information Commissioner should be made directly responsible to and funded by Parliament to protect the independence of the role, rather than being sponsored by the Ministry of Justice as at present, but Government has rejected this recommendation. The Committee also stressed in its report that it must always be clear that the Commissioner takes personal responsibility for decisions, and should remain an individual - technically a "corporation sole" - rather than a Commission.
Chair of the Committee Rt Hon Sir Alan Beith said: "In recent years many issues have arisen, some very high profile, that prove the need for strong protective measures for the vast amount of personal information about citizens now held by both government and private companies. Equally, the value of a right of access to much of the information held by the state has been demonstrated over and over again."
"We look forward to a continuing dialogue with the Information Commissioner on progress both in protecting people's personal information and in securing implementation of the letter as well as the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act."
"The Information Commissioner needs to be an independent and fearless champion of both data protection and freedom of information, with the resources to run an office that is efficient enough to be taken seriously. Following our pre-appointment hearing we endorse Mr Christopher Graham's suitability for appointment in the role and we wish him every success."
Committee Report: The work of the Information Commissioner: appointment of a new Commissioner (Third Report of Session 2008-09 (HC 146)