The Information Commission and the Leveson Inquiry

Ian Batten igb at
Tue Dec 13 12:50:56 GMT 2011

> The gist of Thomas' evidence to Leveson Inquiry was that it was all their external counsel’s fault that the ICO investigated no journos. The barrister said the cases would have been too expensive for the ICO to pursue. The Inquiry's counsel was harshly incredulous that this judgement was within the competence of an external adviser – it must have been a response to instructions.

It seems like a pretty complete failure of governance.  Unminuted meetings being reconstructed from memory and loose notes?  This was, unless there's some massive scandal we've not yet heard about, the biggest decision the ICO had to take.  Ultimately, the IC is paid to take those decisions, supported by his staff and (presumably, although we'd have to read their governance documents) his board.  It appears that in this case the decision was taken by a combination of sofa government --- literally, given it appears some of the meetings took place in people's houses --- and palming it off onto external people.  What were the criteria used to judge that it was too expensive?  Who set those criteria?

I've often said that one of the problems of the public sector is that a threat to obtain a letter written by a man who once met a solicitor in a pub is accorded the same respect as a judgement by the Supreme Court.  This seems to be a variation on the same thing: an external counsel expressed an opinion which even if factually correct was outside what the counsel was asked to advise on, and which relies on parameters (essentially, how much is too much) which the external counsel doesn't have, and yet the IC took it as something he had no choice but to go along with.

Being charitable, it's amateur hour on stage at a provincial working men's club.  Being less charitable, it's regulator capture on a grand scale.

There's also an interesting section in the transcript Caspar links to [1] which screams "governance failure" (p.46 on p.12).  Some of these topics are the legitimate purview of the Information Commissioner qua Information Commissioner (a post that, like the DPP, has some legal standing).   Some of them are things that the ICO corporately might take a view on.  Some of them are the stuff of an office manager or a COO, not a man with legal responsibilities.  That the IC was, or that argues later that he was, concerned with office moves, bogus agencies and the IT system is something that a board should have intervened over.

> 3    I was -- we had the major debate about identity
> 4    cards just starting.  I was seeking to reorganise the
> 5    office at that time.  We were establishing offices in
> 6    Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff.  Major preparations for
> 7    freedom of information.  A big programme to simplify our
> 8    approach to data protection.  A brand new employment
> 9    code of practice which had been heavily criticised in
> 10    the press and elsewhere.  We had a major problem with
> 11    bogus agencies, people purporting to be our office and
> 12    receiving money from other organisations.  We had an IT
> 13    system which was causing us trouble, which was being
> 14    installed.  We had a major row with the audit commission
> 15    about the way they were carrying out their functions.



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