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Commissioner publishes report on Scottish Executive search for records relating to institutional children's homes and education.

NEWS RELEASE issued Thursday 23 June 2005

Commissioner publishes report on Scottish Executive search for records relating to institutional children's homes and education.

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The Scottish Information Commissioner today (23 June 2005) publishes his report on the Scottish Executive's work to trace and open up records about institutional children's homes and education. The study was undertaken in response to a request by the Minister for Education and Young People, who asked the Commissioner to verify that all reasonable steps had been taken to open the Executive's records and so to provide reassurance to Parliament and the survivors of abuse.

The Commissioner's examination took some 6 months to complete and included an extensive audit of the Scottish Executive Education Department's efforts to trace and make available 3,014 individual records covering a period of more than 60 years. His 44 page report provides a comprehensive overview of the search for records. It also examines the arrangements put in place to provide future access to those records.

The report findings include:

  • The Scottish Executive has taken all reasonable steps to trace and open all historical records that it holds relating to institutional children's homes and residential schools in Scotland
  • The Scottish Executive has demonstrated both perseverance and care in its approach to searching for the records, although there were some deficiencies in the recording of the approach. The search was particularly difficult because of the sheer volume of records held and the largely unstructured nature of the information within them.
  • The Scottish Executive and the National Archives of Scotland do not hold structured records of individual children during their time as residents of institutions. The relevant records holdings are predominantly inspection reports and property files relating to these establishments. The records do occasionally contain scraps of information about individual children, but this tends to be coincidental rather than a function of the record. These may, however, be the only records available to former residents of children's homes and educational institutions and therefore these small amounts of information assume great significance to those individuals.
  • The records are open to public view and systems are in place to allow individuals to see information about themselves.
  • The Scottish Executive's past performance in responding to requests for information about childcare and educational institutions would not have met the requirements of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002. However, the Education Department now has the necessary steps in place to enable it to meet the 20 working day deadline for responding to future requests. The Commissioner recommends that the Executive takes further action to improve the accessibility of the records and emphasises that individuals still have the right to appeal to him if access is unreasonably delayed or denied.

Kevin Dunion, Scottish Information Commissioner, said "My report will provide some reassurance that extensive efforts have been made by the Scottish Executive to now make information available which previously was closed to the public. It is most regrettable, however, that after all those efforts so little information actually now exists, if it ever existed, which might be of assistance to survivors of institutional abuse."

Ends

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

Notes to Editors:

  • The full examination report will be available online at www.itspublicknowledge.info/Documents/SEEDreport.pdf from noon on Thursday 23 June 2005.
  • The Minister for Education and Young People announced his intention to ask the Commissioner to undertake the examination at the Scottish Parliament debate on institutional child abuse on 1st December 2004.

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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