What are Public Officials?

A public official is anyone in a position of official authority that is conferred by a state, i.e. someone who holds a legislative, administrative, or judicial position of any kind, whether appointed or elected.

This definition applies to individuals who hold such positions or exercise a public function for any part of a territory, as well as for the whole of a country. Common examples include:

- government ministers and civil servants;
- local government members and officials;
- the police and other security agencies, such as immigration and border control;
- the armed forces; etc.

The definition also extends to include officials or agents of public international organizations and in some cases will also cover individuals who at first sight do not appear to fall within the definition or who do not necessarily consider themselves to be public officials.
Generally, the following should be treated as public bodies and their staff, therefore, as public officials:

‘QUANGOs' (‘quasi autonomous non-governmental organizations’) - bodies that are financed by governments but nominally independent of them. Examples include the Law Commission, British Library, Civil Aviation Authority, etc.

World bodies, such as the World Bank, United Nations, Red Cross and International Standards Organization;

Commercial and other state-run bodies in countries where enterprise is largely state-owned, most notably China, but can also occur elsewhere in Europe.

Note – within the UK although universities receive state-funding they are not wholly-owned bodies of the state and so employees are not  considered to be public officials. Particular care must be exercised in some countries, however, where staff of academic and research institutions are civil servants or where the institution is wholly owned by the state.

If there is any doubt then it is always safer to treat individuals and organizations as though they were public officials.