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Commissioner requires disclosure of information on the detention of children at Dungavel

Image of filing Cabinet with documents flying out of itNews Release: 25 September 2006 ? for immediate use

Commissioner requires disclosure of information on the detention of children at Dungavel

The Scottish Information Commissioner, Kevin Dunion, has ordered the release of specified communications between the Scottish Executive (the Executive) and the Home Office on the detention of children at Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre (Dungavel).

His decision, issued on 21 September 2006, partially upheld an appeal by Christine Grahame MSP against the Executive?s decision to withhold information in response to her information request. Using the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA), a member of Ms Grahame?s staff had requested copies of all communications dating from August 2003 to June 2004 between the Executive and the Home Office about the detention of children at Dungavel. The Executive refused to supply any of this information because it judged that disclosure would be likely to prejudice substantially its relations with the Home Office and it would not be in the public interest to disclose it.

After a detailed investigation, the Commissioner concluded that, whilst the Executive had acted in accordance with FOISA by withholding some of the information requested by Ms Grahame, a number of documents should be released.

The Commissioner said:

?I have recognised that co-operative and constructive relationships between central government and the various devolved administrations are important given the UK?s constitutional arrangements. However, this does not mean that information should be withheld in circumstances where any of the administrations would simply prefer it not to be released, or where disclosure might cause a degree of irritation or embarrassment.

That said, in this case I have accepted the Executive?s arguments that disclosure of a number of relevant documents would be harmful to the continued engagement between the two administrations on matters of mutual concern, and that disclosure would lead to such engagement in future being less forthright and full. Where this is the case, I have also found that the public interest in withholding this information outweighs the public interest in its disclosure.

However, the fact of the Executive?s dialogue with the Home Office on the topic of Dungavel is a matter of public record. I have concluded that substantial harm would not be caused to this process by the disclosure of a number of documents. As a consequence, release of this information will provide some insight into the nature of the exchanges that took place between the Home Office and the Executive, and the respective roles of those parties?

In reaching his decision, the Commissioner noted that the location of Dungavel in Scotland has raised complex political and legal questions. The Home Office, as the department of the UK Government responsible for Dungavel?s operation, participates in a dialogue with the Executive on this subject. The Commissioner accepted that to allow an open and candid dialogue to continue on this subject, a degree of privacy was required. He agreed that disclosure of some of the information under consideration would be likely to harm the future willingness of the parties to exchange views and share information on this subject. For these items, the Commissioner also judged that the public interest in favour of disclosing the information was outweighed by the public interest in withholding it.

However, the Commissioner did not accept the Executive?s argument that none of the relevant information should be disclosed. He disagreed with the view that harm would be caused by the disclosure of a number of the documents, and he required that these be released.

Ends

For further information contact Sarah Hutchison on 01334 464610, out of hours, 07976 511752

Notes to Editors:

The decision:

  • The Commissioner?s full decision notice (174/2006) is available online by clicking this link.
  • The Commissioner requires that the non-exempt information requested by Ms Grahame be disclosed within 2 months of the receipt of the decision notice.
  • The Commissioner?s decision can be appealed by either Ms Grahame or the Scottish Executive on a point of law only to the Court of Session. Any appeal must be made within 42 days of the receipt of the decision.

The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002

  • The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA) 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 FOISA. 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 FOISA.
  • 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 require release.

The Scottish Information Commissioner

  • Kevin Dunion the Scottish Information Commissioner is a fully independent public official, appointed by the Queen 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 FOISA.

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