The work of the Information Commissioner: appointment of a new Commissioner - Justice Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-22)


13 JANUARY 2009

  Q20  Alun Michael: Yes, but one of my concerns is that classically in an area of difficulty more and more regulation guidance comes out to the point where people are unable to cope with reading all the guides. Does it not at the end of the day come down to mature and responsible judgements being made?

  Richard Thomas: To a large extent, but I do think you need a framework of guidance. Up until now I think there has almost been too much guidance. There have been examples of fragmented guidance drawn up with the best intentions in the world but it gets put into a drawer and does not get looked at by anybody. The broad approach we have been adopting for the last two years with our non-statutory code, and that will be converted into a statutory one, is to have authoritative guidance, a single set of principles with the authority of the Information Commissioner's Office so that people can then use the judgement and the intelligence to make their approach in line with some authoritative guidance. I think that would be a better way to move forward.

  Q21  Alun Michael: At the end of the day it does come down to people not being able to escape the responsibility within that guidance to make a proper judgment.

  Richard Thomas: Absolutely, yes, because you cannot legislate for every situation. What you can do is put the ground rules in place for every scheme, every initiative, and then on a micro basis make sure it is being followed in practice.

  Q22  Chairman: Mr Thomas, Mr Smith, Mr Entwisle, thank you very much indeed, Mr Thomas in particular. It must have been very exciting to embark on the job you did at a time when freedom of information was being introduced. This Committee have worked closely with you, and indeed we both reported before freedom of information came in and afterwards and I think it is one of the success stories of recent government. It must have been exciting to do that. I think we owe you a debt of gratitude for the effort that you have put into it and the contribution you have made to making freedom of information and established part of our public life.

  Richard Thomas: Thank you very much; that is very kind of you, Chairman. I said at the end of my written submission that it has been a great privilege to hold this position. I still have five months to go, so it is business as usual for the next five months, but I do lead a great team and I do think I can put my hand on my heart and say that we are a modernised and more confident organisation. We have had a lot of demand upon us, life is never dull, but it has been a great privilege and I am most grateful for the support of this Committee over the last six years. Thank you very much.

  Chairman: Thank you.

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