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What is Information Commissioner’s role?

The appointment of Gitanjali Gutiérrez to the $180,000-a-year role as Bermuda's first Information Commissioner begins “a seismic shift”, as former Premier Paula Cox described the legislation creating the position in 2011.

However, it has been a five-year process until the appointment of the Commissioner last week as provided for by the Public Access to Information (PATI) Act 2010, which for the most part is not yet in force. The commissioner's mandate is to promote public access to information, with the proviso that it is in accordance with the Act. It also states that the commissioner should raise public awareness and their understanding of the public's access to information. She should also do this by providing guidance to public authorities about the obligations imposed on them by the PATI legislation.

PATI describes itself as giving the public the right to obtain access to information held by public authorities “to the greatest extent possible,” although with some exceptions.

The legislation is designed to increase transparency and to shed unnecessary secrecy in regard to information held by public authorities.

It will increase their accountability and provide the public with additional information about their activities, including how they make decisions. They will also be expected to provide information through “various means of communication” so that “the public needs only to have minimum resort to the use of the Act to obtain information”.

The commissioner has also been given powers by the PATI Act to hire personnel to assist in fulfilling her functions, and it states that she and her staff must also keep confidential the information and documentation that they receive. There is also legal protection for the commissioner and her staff — the Act states that no proceedings, either civil or criminal, can be brought against them.

Former Premier Alex Scott first promised PATI in 2003 and Ms Cox had warned that implementing it would be a lengthy process. The legislation was passed in Parliament on July 23, 2010, when Dr Ewart Brown, then the Premier, said to expect implementation within two to three years.

The only sections in force as yet are 50 to 55, which provide for the office of the Commissioner, and 60 to 62, which provide, in part, for a code of practice. Ms Gutiérrez has previously been a senior staff attorney with the Centre for Constitutional Rights in the United States.

Former Premier Paula Cox

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Published March 04, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated March 04, 2015 at 12:11 am)

What is Information Commissioner’s role?

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