Important amendments to the Data Protection Act – in the Coroner and Justice Bill

Claire Walker

Draft legislation to boost the Information Commissioner’s enforcement powers, to replace the £35 flat fee with tiered notification fees and to permit data sharing by public sector organisations was published last week. You could be forgiven for having missed it – since the relevant provisions form part of the somewhat eclectic Coroner and Justice Bill.

As its name suggests, the Bill deals with the law relating to coroners and to certification and registration of deaths, and sweeps up a wide range of criminal justice reforms. In a lengthy Bill, competing for attention with provisions on homicide, suicide, terrorism, witness protection and criminals’ memoirs, last (but in Datonomy’s view definitely not least) – are some important amendments to the Data Protection Act 1998.

The proposed changes to the DPA fall into two categories. For the public sector, proposed new sections will provide the legal framework for data sharing, by means of information sharing orders. These are subject to a number of conditions related to policy objectives, proportionality and public interest. Safeguards on the use of this power will be provided by a new Code of Practice to be issued by the Commissioner.

The remainder of the DPA changes will be of interest to all organisations handling data, whether in the private or public sector. The relevant clauses reflect the various recommendations announced by the Ministry of Justice at the end of last year, aimed at boosting he enforcement powers and income of the Commissioner’s Office. These include:

  • the introduction of Assessment Notices;
  • some technical changes to strengthen the ICO’s existing sanction of Information Notices;
    strengthening of the ICO’s powers of entry and inspection;
  • and
    the introduction of tiered notification fees, to replace the current £35 flat fee.
  • The legislative timetable for the Bill is as yet unclear – Datonomy will be keeping a keen eye on progress!
    The draft Bill is available on the Houses of Parliament website at this link http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2008-09/coronersandjustice.html
    The Ministry of Justice website has a user-friendly summary here http://www.justice.gov.uk/publications/coroners-justice-bill.htm

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