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A House of Commons Committee has given its seal of approval to the Ministry of Justice's choice to be the new Information Commissioner, clearing the way for the appointment of Christopher Graham to the post.

Current Commissioner Richard Thomas retires in June and the Ministry of Justice previously announced Advertising Standards Authority executive director Graham as its choice for the post. It said that it would not confirm the appointment until a pre-appointment hearing from the Commons Justice Committee.

That Committee has now approved Graham for the post, but has reiterated its calls for better funding and more independence for the office of the privacy watchdog.

"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," said a statement from the Committee.

The Committee's chair, Sir Alan Beith, said that it was crucial that the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) remained separate from Government.

"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," he 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," he said.

A spokeswoman for the Committee said that its pre-appointment hearings did not give it formal veto powers, but that a Government department would find it difficult to appoint someone to a post who had been criticised by a Commons committee.

The Committee also stressed its previously-stated belief that the ICO needs better funding if it is properly to carry out its responsibilities.

"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 Committee statement said.

In a submission to the Committee earlier this year, in which he reviewed his seven-year term of office, Thomas said that the resourcing of the ICO was its biggest challenge, and that it faced budget cuts just as its role and responsibilities were increasing.

Copyright © 2009, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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