Justice Committee

Press notice No. 14 of Session 2008-09

Monday 9 February 2009  / For Immediate Release


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 Information Commissioner, supported by an Office (the ICO) of 250 staff, enforces and oversees the Freedom of Information and Data Protection Acts, as well as the Environmental Information and Privacy and Electronic Communications regulations. The Coroners and Justice Bill introduced in January of this year creates further duties and powers for the Information Commissioner, crucially including responsibility for evaluating the implementation of broad new powers for Ministers to grant authority for data-sharing between public bodies.

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.”

1. This report is the third report of session 2008-9 and is published as HC 146.

2. Please contact Jessica Bridges Palmer for media bids and inquiries - 0207 219 0724 or 07917 488 447

3. Committee membership is as follows: Rt Hon Sir Alan Beith MP (Chairman), Mr David Heath MP, Siân James MP, Daniel Kawczynski MP, Jessica Morden MP, Julie Morgan MP, Rt Hon Alun Michael MP, Robert Neill MP, Dr Nick Palmer MP, Linda Riordan MP, Virendra Sharma MP, Mr Andrew Turner MP, Mr Andrew Tyrie MP and Dr Alan Whitehead MP

4. The report and transcripts of evidence sessions can be found at on the Committee's website at www.parliament.uk/justicecom

Further Information:
Media Enquiries: Jessica Bridges Palmer (020 7219 0724) email: bridgespalmerj@parliament.uk; Clare Mills (07795 662742);

Specific Committee Information: Tel 020 7219 8196/ 8198, email: justicecom@parliament.uk

Committee Website:  www.parliament.uk/justicecom

Watch committees and parliamentary debates online: www.parliamentlive.tv

Select Committee Calendar: www.parliament.uk/what_s_on/hoc_news3.cfm

Publications / Reports / Reference Material: Copies of all select committee reports are available from the Parliamentary Bookshop (12 Bridge St, Westminster, 020 7219 3890) or the Stationery Office (0845 7023474).  Committee reports, press releases, evidence transcripts, Bills; research papers, a directory of MPs, plus Hansard (from 8am daily) and much more, can be found on www.parliament.uk