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Freedom of Information gets off to a flying start.

Image of filing Cabinet with documents flying out of itNEWS RELEASE issued Monday 23 May 2005

Freedom of Information gets off to a flying start

Research published today (23 May 2005) reveals that the Scottish Information Commissioner?s campaign to raise public awareness of the new Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act has achieved significant results. At the same time, the Commissioner has announced his first decision on whether a public authority has complied with the Act.

The research revealed that more than two thirds of Scots are now aware of the new legislation. In response to the survey carried out at the end of March, 49% of respondents said they had definitely heard of the Act, while another 20% said they thought they had. When the same question was asked 6 months earlier, before the Act came into force, only 30% said they had definitely heard of the Act, while a further 14% thought they had.

The survey was conducted during the final week of the Commissioner?s TV advertising campaign, and follows the publication of a range of materials designed to raise public awareness of the Act. The media had also reported widely on the Act coming into force, and the survey results suggest that this was a contributory factor in the increased awareness.

Kevin Dunion, the Scottish Information Commissioner said:
?The indications strongly suggest that people appreciate their new freedom of information rights. Public knowledge is on the increase. Scottish public authorities are dealing with a steady flow of requests and, where they don?t get the information they want, people are confident about making appeals to me. I have just made my first formal decision, upholding a complaint by a member of the public.?

The Commissioner?s Office has received around 200 appeals to date, far more than had been anticipated. Of these applications, nearly half have been made by members of the general public.

The Commissioner?s first decision in one of these cases is also published today. In it, the Commissioner explains his decision to uphold the applicant?s complaint about Lothian and Borders Safety Camera Partnership?s handling of his request for a safety camera calibration certificate.

The survey suggests that there is still work to be done though, as it shows that people are still uncertain of the detail of the new law. The Act?s general right of access to information held by Scottish public authorities is confused by many with the individual?s right to access information about themselves provided by the Data Protection Act.

Ends

For further information contact: Claire Sigsworth or Paul Mutch on 01334 464610, out of hours, 07976 511752

Notes to Editors

  • Progressive Partnership carried out the research using their in-house Omnibus poll, Scottish Opinion. 1008 people were interviewed by telephone between 29 March and 5 April to provide a data set with a maximum standard error of +/- 3.1% at the 95% confidence level.
  • The Commissioner?s first decision on ?Mr L and the Lothian and Border Safety Camera Partnership? will also be available on his website site from Monday.

The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002

  • The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 provides a statutory right of access to all information held by Scottish public authorities. This right came into effect on 1 January 2005.
  • Around 10,000 public authorities in Scotland are covered by the Act. They include the Scottish Parliament and Executive, police forces, the NHS, local authorities, education institutions, and publicly owned companies.
  • Information can only be withheld by a public authority if it falls under one of the exemptions listed in the Act. Exemptions include where the information may prejudice national security or defence, or where the release is prohibited by another piece of legislation.
  • If an individual believes an authority is wrong to withhold information, they ultimately have a right of appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner, who can force release.

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 (Scotland) Act.

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