Who regulates the regulators?

In Press review on May 18, 2009 at 4:20 pm

Does regulation stop at the role of the regulator or are regulators also regulated?

The Independent Police Complaints Commission is examining claims that the police misled the media in the aftermath of the death of Ian Tomlinson. However, the announcement does not appear to go as far as some wish. Journalists and bloggers were concerned not just that the police misled the media but that the IPCC also did so.

The IPCC does not have a regulator overseeing it. The Act which create the commission made no mention of an appeals process against the findings of the commission. Whilst its funding comes solely from the Home Office, the very same Act guarantees its independence from the police, government and any political party or interest group.

This approach is different to the Advertising Standards Authority. The ASA was completely free of legislative oversight until the introduction of European law, through a statutory instrument which gave the Office of Fair Trading a right to intervene to adjudicate in cases where the ASA may have got it wrong. However, the OFT has to balance the need to take action against whether its actions would ultimately weaken the system of self-regulation.

The Press Complaints Commission has an independent arbiter who reviews the work of the PCC when a complainant has been unhappy with their treatment. It could also be subject to judicial review – although this has never been exercised.

Ofsted both has its own internal complaints service and is subject to the Ofsted Adjudication Service, which is effectively outsourced to the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution and this service reports directly to the secretary of state.

I’m not aware of any resesarch which demonstrates that one of these approaches has more credibility than any others. But when the actions of regulators are of huge public interest (such as the FSA) or controversial (the IPCC) expect more people to ask: who regulates the regulators?


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