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The role of the Commissioner for Public Appointments

Sir William Shawcross CVO was appointed as the sixth Commissioner for Public Appointments in September 2021.

The Commissioner’s functions

The Commissioner’s main functions are set out in the Public Appointments Order in Council 2023. They are:

Monitoring public appointments processes within his remit by:

  • Ensuring that appointing authorities act in accordance with the Governments Governance Code, including the Principles of Public Appointments
  • Carrying out an audit of the procedures and practices followed by appointing authorities in making public appointments,
  • Hearing complaints and investigating any aspect of the appointment processes

Monitoring compliance with the Governance Code by:

  • Carrying out a regular audit of appointments processes within his remit
  • Conducting investigations into any aspect of public appointments to improve their quality
  • Issuing an annual report based on his regulatory work, including information about non-compliance and an account of any inquiry into the public appointment procedures and practices of appointing authorities.

The Commissioner for Public Appointments does not

  • Make appointments himself
  • Provide information about the availability of public appointments
  • Deal with the procedures or respond to queries relating to appointments which do not fall within his remit, such as civil service appointments, or judicial appointments.  For civil service appointments contact the Civil Service Commission; for judicial appointments please contact the Judicial Appointments Commission.

Departments now publish real-time data to enable effective scrutiny of individual appointment processes.

Background to the role of the Commissioner

The role of the Commissioner for Public Appointments was created by the Public Appointments Order in Council 1995.

This followed the First Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life (“Standards in Public Life” – CM 2850-1) under the chairmanship of Lord Nolan.

The Nolan Committee was required to examine then current concerns about standards of conduct of all holders of public office, including arrangements relating to financial and commercial activities, and to make recommendations as to any changes in the then present arrangements which might be required to ensure the highest standards of propriety in public life. The Nolan Committee noted a number of concerns about so called “quangos” – quasi autonomous non governmental organisations. The Nolan Committee recommended (among other things) that there should be an independent Public Appointments Commissioner in order to monitor, regulate and approve departmental appointments procedures. The Commissioner was to publish an Annual Report on the operation of the public appointments system and draw up a Code of Practice for public appointments procedures.

On 23 November 1995 Sir Len Peach was appointed Commissioner for Public Appointments in England, Scotland and Wales and, by a separate Order, Commissioner for Public Appointments for Northern Ireland.

In March 1999 Dame Rennie Fritchie (now Baroness Fritchie) was appointed the second Commissioner for Public Appointments.

in January 2006 Janet Gaymer CBE (now Dame Janet Gaymer DBE QC) was appointed the third Commissioner for Public Appointments.

Her Majesty The Queen approved the appointment of Sir David Normington, GCB, to the dual role of Commissioner for Public Appointments and First Civil Service Commissioner. Sir David took up the appointment on 1 April 2011.

In 2015 the Government announced a review of Public Appointments to be conducted by Sir Gerry Grimstone. Following that review, the government published new rules for public appointments in its Governance Code which took effect on 1 January 2017. These changes were set out in a new Order in Council, and the government reinstated the Commissioner role as separate from the First Civil Service Commissioner.

The Rt. Hon. Peter Riddell CBE (now Sir Peter) was appointed as the fifth Commissioner for Public Appointments in April 2016, and held the role until September 2021.