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July 31, 2017

Scottish Parliament urged to review Freedom of Information amid concerns over lack of transparency

By Freddy Mayhew

A network of activists and campaign groups dedicated to open government has called on Scotland to review the “effectiveness” of its freedom of information laws.

The Open Government Network for Scotland said the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 was “one of the vital mechanisms” for assuring people of the government’s commitment to openness, transparency and accessibility.

In an open letter to the Scottish Government, signed by 16 individual members and 12 organisations, the group said: “Recently, concerns have been raised from across society in Scotland regarding the effectiveness of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002. Including:

  • A coalition of journalists from across the media landscape in Scotland raising concerns about the treatment and management of freedom of information requests
  • Motions passed by the Scottish Parliament condemning the record of response to freedom of information requests
  • Statements from the outgoing Scottish Information Commissioner

“These concerns are at a sufficient level, and represent a significantly wide array of society that we believe the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 should be examined by the Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee.

“But important as it is, it is also our view that effective Freedom of Information is merely the tip of the iceberg to ensure transparency and trust in Scotland’s public institutions.

“In due course, this may merit a parliamentary inquiry into the transparency of Scotland’s institutions, building on an initial examination of FOI by the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee.

“As members of the Open Government Network, we call for the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee to review of the effectiveness of Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 and stand ready to inform this.”

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In April last year Scotland was selected by the Open Government Partnership (OGP) to be one of 15 “pioneer” sub-national governments.

The OGP is a 69 country partnership that aims to “secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption and harness new technologies to strengthen governance” according to its website.

In December last year Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon published an Open Government Partnership Scottish Action Plan. She has previously pledged “an outward looking Government which is more open and accessible to Scotland’s people than ever before”.

The Freedom of Information Act was reviewed by government after 10 years of use. In March last year the government found the legislation to be “working well” and ruled that there would be no legal changes to the Act.

The move was announced by Cabinet Office Minister Matt Hancock after he was presented with more than 43,000 signatures in a Press Gazette petition urging him to leave the act alone.

The Hands Off FoI campaign was launched by the Society of Editors in October with the backing of Press Gazette.

Picture: Reuters/Russell Cheyne

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