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Scottish Information Commissioner concludes first case under open government code.

Image of legal books and advocate's wigNEWS RELEASE - Issued Sunday 22nd August, 2004

Scottish Information Commissioner concludes first case under open government code

The Scottish Information Commissioner wants people to be more aware of their rights to information following the successful conclusion of the first ever formal complaint made under the Code of Practice on Access to Scottish Executive Information.

As a result of the Commissioner effecting a settlement between the Sunday Times and the Scottish Courts Service, the Scottish Courts Service has now made available for the first time information about the number of successful appeals against decisions made by every sheriff and High Court judge in Scotland.

The case is also the first ever to be considered by the Commissioner, who is the new public official responsible for enforcing and promoting the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, which will come fully into force in January 2005.

The Commissioner, Kevin Dunion, said:
?I am pleased that we have been able to resolve the first ever complaint, by securing the release of information requested by the journalists. However the fact that there has never been a formal complaint before suggests to me that people are unaware of existing appeal procedures, not that they have always received the information they have asked for.

When the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act comes into effect in a few months time I want the public to be aware of their rights to appeal to me if they are dissatisfied at being refused information requested from a Scottish public authority.?

Summary of the Case:

  • The Sunday Times complained to the Scottish Information Commissioner in relation to a request for information made to the Scottish Courts Service on 21 January 2004.
  • The newspaper initially requested a list of convictions, which resulted in successful appeals, for every sheriff and high court judge in Scotland for the year 2002.
  • This request was refused by the Scottish Courts Service on the grounds that it did not collect the information in the form requested by the Sunday Times and that to collate it would be too costly.
  • The Sunday Times complained to the Commissioner on 29 March under the terms of the Code of Practice on Access to Scottish Executive Information.
  • As both parties were willing to explore a settlement, rather than move to an immediate formal recommendation, the Commissioner?s Head of Investigations convened a meeting between the Sunday Times and the Scottish Courts Service in May 2004. At this meeting, the Scottish Courts Service agreed to release more information than the Sunday Times had originally requested.
  • The Commissioner received confirmation that the Sunday Times had received all the information requested on 17 August 2004.


Notes to Editors:

1. The Scottish Information Commissioner:

  • Kevin Dunion is the first Scottish Information Commissioner; promoting freedom of information for everyone in Scotland.
  • The Scottish Information Commissioner is a fully independent public official, appointed by the Queen on 24 February 2003 on the nomination of the Scottish Parliament.
  • His duties and powers are to ensure that people get the information from Scottish public authorities to which they are entitled.
  • His role actively promotes and enforces compliance with the Freedom of Information Act which fully comes into force in 2005. Until then the Commissioner is working towards the smooth implementation of the Act by contributing to the preparation ? by public authorities ? of material for the public. 

2. The Code of Practice on Access to Scottish Executive Information (the Code) :

The Code sets out guidelines for the Scottish Executive and its agencies on making the information they hold available to the public. It has been in place since the Executive was created in 1999 but no complaint was ever made under it until responsibility passed to the Commissioner in October 2003. Under the Code, the Commissioner has the power to consider disputed cases and issue recommendations about whether information should be released. He has no authority to force the release of information under the Code, however.

3. The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002:

In January 2005, the Code will be superseded by the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, which will grant for the first time a legal right to access information held by Scottish public authorities. From then, the Commissioner will be able to consider disputed cases and, where necessary, force public authorities to release information.

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