Baker responds to questions on former Information Commissioner
After campaign groups criticize consultant's role, the global firm emphasizes its commitment to good governance
Baker McKenzie has emphasized the care with which it handled the employment of former UK Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham as a consultant after campaign groups criticized the move.
After Denham's recent appointment, the firm acknowledged that the move raised "valid" and "understandable" questions. It said it had respected "her previous regulatory role and responsibilities" when planning the appointment.
Denham joined Baker's global data and technology team in London after completing her term as UK Information Commissioner.
However, the nature and speed of her appointment after stepping down from her public role drew criticism from campaign groups including Transparency International. It said that "tougher controls over top officials entering and leaving public office" were required.
In a statement, Baker said, "Both Denham and our firm are conscious of the need to respect her previous regulatory role and responsibilities as well as all confidentiality and professional obligations that arise from them. All of this has been considered and planned for, appropriately."
The firm added, "In addition to the legal obligations placed on any serving former commissioners by the Data Protection Act 2018, Denham's work would not involve any contact with or representations to her former office for a period of at least one year."
Brian Hengesbaugh, chair of the Bakers' global data privacy and security business unit, described it as "a real coup" when Denham's appointment was announced. "She is no stranger to grappling with some of the thorniest issues in the field of technology and how our data is used and accessed," he added.
At Bakers Denham is expected to advise clients on data protection best practices, strategy and wider technology regulation trends.
UK head of cyber-security, Paul Glass, described data protection and privacy as "a crucial part" of the firm's technology offering that was increasingly in demand from clients.
"We are very excited that Denham will be lending her expertise to this area of our business. Few global regulators have been closer to the cutting-edge issues in data regulation than her," he added.
(While UK civil servants must seek approval from the UK's Advisory Committee on business appointments to join the private sector, this does not apply in Denham's case, as the Information Commissioner Office (ICO) employees are not civil servants).
When asked about Denham's move into private practice, the ICO said information commissioners are required by law to maintain the confidentiality of information they receive as part of their job, which applies both during and after employment.
It added that it had "strict policies governing the declaration of any interests" and that "no conflict of interest had been identified with regard to her role."
Denham informed, "By contract, I am bound by a minimum one-year cooling-off period with regard to my former office. With these legal and contractual conditions, possible conflicts will be addressed and my role will be carried out with high standards of integrity."
A veteran data protection specialist, Denham began her term as UK information commissioner in 2016. Prior to that, she spent 12 years in senior positions in privacy regulation in her native Canada, including as an information and privacy commissioner for British Columbia and assistant privacy commissioner of Canada.