Not one serving or retired judge was found in a recent survey of Information Commissioners conducted across 35 national and provincial jurisdictions around the world.
The survey, conducted by Venkatesh Nayak of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative’s Access to Information Programme, covered a range of countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Switzerland, Mexico, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Nepal. There are no Information Commissioners in the United States and all Freedom of Information appeals lie with the courts.
The Indian Supreme Court ruled last week that Information Commissions are quasi-judicial in nature and must, therefore, work in benches of two members, one of whom should be a judicial member.
The court said the Information Commissioner should preferably be a High Court judge while the Chief Information Commissioner at the Centre and in the States should “only be a person who is or has been a Chief Justice of a High Court or a Judge of the Supreme Court.”
The survey’s major findings: The Information Commissioner of the U.K., Christopher Graham, has a graduate degree in history and had worked with the BBC as a journalist. Peter Schaar, Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information in Germany, has a degree in economics and was previously with the government in the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg.
The office of the Information Commissioner in Australia has three members, of whom two hold degrees in law but neither is a judge. John McMilan Ao is Emeritus Professor of the Australian National University and was a public lawyer for three years. James Popple has a doctoral degree in artificial intelligence and law. The third member, Timothy Pilgrim, is the Privacy Commissioner, a job requiring an understanding of privacy laws insofar as they conflict with the freedom of information. But he has a Bachelor’s degree in Arts.
Two of the five members forming Mexico’s Federal Information Commission have degrees in law but the chairperson of the Commission is an academic who has specialised in social sciences. None of the seven members of the Federal Information Commission of Indonesia has a law degree.
The survey also included in its ambit the office of European Ombudsman, saying it has a mandate similar to the Indian Information Commissions.
The Ombudsman, P. Nikiforros Diammandouros, has a doctoral degree in political science and was earlier a member of Greece’s National Commission on Human Rights.