Society backs call to review Freedom of Information in Scotland
03 August 2017
The Society of Editors has backed calls by a network of activists and campaign groups to review Freedom of Information in Scotland.
In a letter to the First Minister, the Society has called on the Scottish government to review the current effectiveness of the legislation and to put pressure on public bodies to promote openness and transparency.
It said: “Freedom of Information has been a tremendous success and it has greatly increased transparency in government. By exposing abuse of power, waste of money and official complacency it has improved governance at national and local levels, saved money and saved lives. The legislation is vital in holding public services to account and ensuring that the public is kept aware of what is done in their name. I would welcome your assurances that your government recognises the vital importance of this legislation and that you will take measures to ensure that it continues to work effectively to the greater benefit of society.”
The letter follows a call this week by a network of activists and campaign groups in Scotland to review the legislation in light of concerns that it is being routinely misused by public bodies.
In an open letter to the Scottish government, The Open Government Network for Scotland, pointed to concerns by journalists across Scotland about the treatment and management of freedom of information requests. The Society, which launched the #HandsOffFOI campaign in 2015 to oppose any restrictions to the scope of the Freedom of Information Act that governs England, Wales and Northern Ireland, has supported the call for a review and pointed to the UK government’s acknowledgment of the importance of such legislation in holding public services to account.
It said: “It is with the Review’s acknowledgement of the importance of freedom of information legislation in mind, that we are alarmed to hear reports of serious concerns in relation to the interpretation and implementation of freedom of information legislation in Scotland. We are aware that you have received a letter from activists and campaign groups in Scotland asking your government to review the current effectiveness of the legislation. The letter, signed by The Open Government Network for Scotland, has set out concerns in relation to the treatment and management of freedom of information requests, motions passed by the Scottish Parliament condemning the record of response to such requests and statements from the outgoing Scottish Information Commissioner. In light of these concerns, the letter calls on the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 to be reviewed by the Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee.
It added: “The Society of Editors, on behalf of our members, would support such a review to ensure that the Act [in Scotland] is working as effectively as possible. Too often legitimate requests are being met with unnecessary delays, obfuscation and attempted secrecy by public bodies. I am sure that you are aware of a number of high profile decisions by the Scottish Information Commissioner in the past year whereby individual councils have been ordered to release information that they have fought to withhold. This is unacceptable and against the principles of openness and transparency which your government has vowed to promote.”
The full letter is available to read here.