Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act

SpyI like to keep an eye on developments arising from the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act (FOISA). Most of the mentions that make the news of any sort are fairly mundane, and not really worthy of comment, being little more than griping by twisted individuals who have nothing better to do than dream up some sort of obscure, mischievous, and time-wasting enquiry, and then go whining to the world when they get a knock-back.

While such knock-backs are not a worry, there are instances – substantiated by prosecutions – where people wilfully amend official records in order to prevent their disclosure under FOISA.

Of concern is a statement made by the outgoing Scottish Information Commissioner that the time the authorities are devoting to such prosecutions should be doubled, or more. Kevin Dunion said that the current six month period within which action must be taken is inadequate and must be doubled, or changed so that authorities have six months from the discovery of an act to take action, rather than six months from the carrying out of the act. “In most cases it will only become apparent that an offence has been committed as a result of investigations into an appeal which has been made to the Commissioner” he said in his report .

The Scottish Information Commissioner also outlined a recommendation that future incumbents of the post should have the power to “seek affidavit evidence or conduct formal questioning under oath“. He said this would help the Commissioner to conduct investigations and “secure unrecorded information”.

Additional bodies to be held accountable

The outgoing Scottish Information Commissioner also said that the public should be given the right to make FOI requests for information stored by bodies that work on behalf of public authorities, not just the authorities themselves. Under FOISA only ‘listed designated’ bodies are subject to the laws set out in the Act, and although the provision exists to add organisations to this list Scottish Ministers have yet to exercise this option since the law was enacted in 2002. He said:

“No additional bodies have been designated since FOISA came into force and this calls into question whether Scottish rights to information will keep pace with the change in delivery of public services, and whether those spending public funds can be held to account at an operational or local level.”

Last January, Scottish Ministers decided against adding organisations such as leisure, sport, and cultural trusts established by local authorities to the list of designated bodies subject to FOISA. The decision was taken following a consultation on the issue which also meant that private contractors that run prisons or build schools, hospitals or roads under private finance initiatives (PFI) are not required to disclose records when requested.

In November of last year, a number of organisations were added to the  list of ‘designated’ public authorities subject to FOI laws in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS), together with the Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland (ACPO), and the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), were added as a public authority under the Freedom of Information (Designation as Public Authorities) Order 2011.

On the surface at least, Scotland seems to be lagging in an areas where it is generally thought to lead.


January 12, 2012 - Posted by | Civilian, council | , , , , , ,

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