Information commissioner succession plans confirmed

Elizabeth Denham will remain in post for an extra month and her deputies will take on regulatory duties for a further month until incoming chief John Edwards starts in new year

Credit: ICO/CC BY-SA 4.0

The succession process for the new information commissioner has been confirmed, after the appointment of the data watchdog’s new chief John Edwards was approved by MPs.

Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee has given the green light to Edwards, who is moving to the UK data-protection regulator from an equivalent post in New Zealand. He is expected to start work at the Information Commissioner’s Office on 3 January.

The outgoing commissioner, Elizabeth Denham (pictured above), had been due to conclude her term on 31 October. This has now been extended by one month, to 30 November. 

During December, regulatory duties will be delegated to the ICO’s three deputy commissioners: James Dipple-Johnstone; Steve Wood; and Simon McDougall.

“This ensures continuity of regulatory decision making during this period,” the government said, in a statement.

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The watchdog’s deputy chief executive Paul Arnold, meanwhile, will formally assume the mantle of the organisation’s accounting officer during the interregnum between Denham’s departure and the start of Edwards’ tenure.

The outgoing leader has already remained in post for three and a half months beyond her originally scheduled five-year term, which was due to conclude on 17 July. In January, she agreed to a request from then DCMS secretary of state Oliver Dowden to extend her term until 31 October, so as to allow sufficient time to recruit her replacement.

Her successor, Edwards, has served as New Zealand privacy commissioner since 2014, prior to which he spent two decades as a practising lawyer in the country’s capital city, Wellington.

He joins the ICO at a time when the government is reviewing the organisation’s role, as part of a wider examination of the UK’s post-Brexit data-protection regime – which ministers have said should be “based on common sense, not box-ticking”.

An ongoing government consultation is seeking feedback on a wide range of proposals and topics.

Last month, Denham said that, broadly, she believes that “the opportunity to reflect on and review the UK data protection legal framework and regulatory regime is a welcome one”.

But the government’s intention that ICO guidance and senior appointments should require approval from ministers threatens the regulator’s standing as an independent watchdog, she added.

“Despite this broad support for the proposals to reform the ICO’s constitution, there are some important specific proposals where I have strong concerns because of their risk to regulatory independence,” Denham said. “For the future ICO to be able to hold government to account, it is vital its governance model preserves its independence and is workable, within the context of the framework set by parliament and with effective accountability. The current proposals for the secretary of state to approve ICO guidance and to appoint the CEO do not sufficiently safeguard this independence. I urge government to reconsider these proposals to ensure the independence of the regulator is preserved.”


Sam Trendall

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