Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

Thomas re-appointed for reduced term as Information Commissioner

Out-Law News | 10 Apr 2007 | 9:12 am | 1 min. read

Richard Thomas has been appointed for a second term as the Information Commissioner. He will not serve his full five-year term, however; he will stand down in two years when he turns 60.

Information Commissioners can serve up to two five year terms, and Thomas was appointed as Commissioner in November 2002, taking over from Elizabeth France who served two terms in the office then known as Data Protection Registrar.

"The Prime Minister, in a Written Ministerial Statement today [Thursday], announced that the Queen has approved the re-appointment of Mr Richard Thomas as Information Commissioner from 29 November this year until June 2009," said a Government statement.

Thomas has asked for a shorter second stint in the job. "He is being re-appointed for a further term but, at his own request, only until his 60th birthday in June 2009," it said.

The Information Commissioner's job is to monitor the use of and enforce the Freedom of Information Act and the Data Protection Act. He can issue decision notices which are binding on organisations or individuals. To fail to comply with a decision notice is a criminal offence.

Thomas recently admitted that he had been relatively relaxed on enforcing the FOI Act in its first year. “We saw the first year as a learning year for ourselves as an organisation and also for public bodies generally and we tried to be reasonably tolerant, reasonably non-confrontational trying to help public authorities get it right,” he said in evidence to a Parliamentary Select Committee last summer. “We have resolved that we must be considerably tougher in some respects as we go into the second and third year.”

Thomas has also seen his warning of 18 months ago that the UK was "sleepwalking into a surveillance society" become part of the lexicon of groups and people worried about the build up of information gathered by the Government on citizens.

The Information Commissioner is independent of Government and reports directly to Parliament.

Thomas was previously a director of consumer affairs at the Office of Fair Trading and head of public affairs at the National Consumer Council. He has also worked with the Citizen Advice Bureau and as director of public policy at law firm Clifford Chance.