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Commissioner wants young people to be more aware of their rights to access information

Group of young peopleScottish Information Commissioner's 2007 Annual Report

Press release: 11 March 2008

The Scottish Information Commissioner wants more young people to be aware that they have exactly the same rights to access information from Scottish public authorities as adults do. The Commissioner was speaking as he launched his fourth annual report yesterday, Monday 10 March 2008.

New figures released for the first time, show a breakdown of the 1,574 applications to the Commissioner by individual public authorities from 2005 until 2007 ? with central government accounting for the greatest amount (267), followed by Glasgow City Council (68), City of Edinburgh Council (60) and Strathclyde Police (50).

However recent research from the Commissioner's Office also shows that only 68 per cent of 18-24 year olds are aware of Freedom of Information laws, compared to the national average of 74 per cent.  The Commissioner is concerned that awareness of individual rights amongst young people is not as high as it should be, and is likely to be even lower in younger age groups who may not be aware that anyone from the age of 12 years has the same rights as adults.

"FOI can be a powerful tool in helping to change an individual's circumstances.  But individuals cannot use their rights unless they are aware of them - this applies to young people just as much as to every other sector of society" says Kevin Dunion.

"Young people have the right to ask for information about many things that affect them directly ? e.g. finding out about grant assistance for studying, youth services, how exams are graded, or what authorities have done to take action against bullying or drugs-related problems.  They do not even have to explain why they want the information.

"Young people would probably be surprised about the range of information that public authorities hold about things which are relevant to them.  For example, many young people don't realise that their school is a public authority and is covered by the FOI Act.

Even if they think the information they are interested in it is trivial, they have every right to ask for it.  And if they are in any doubt about making an information request, young people can call my office to get some advice."

In 2007 alone, the Commissioner received 482 new applications and issued 249 decisions ? of which 105 were in favour of the authority, 62 in favour of the applicant and 82 were partially upheld.  A further 215 applications were closed without investigation and 135 were closed during investigation ie as a result of being withdrawn or settled.

Overall, the report demonstrates that FOI laws have been a resounding success in Scotland - people are proactively exercising their right to ask for information, and public authorities are adapting well to providing it.

Kevin Dunion was re-appointed as the Scottish Information Commissioner in February 2008 for a second and final term, until 2012.

Full report and key facts

Case studies

Notes to Editors

The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act came into effect on 1 January 2005.  In the first three years of operation, the Commissioner received 1,574 applications ? 90 per cent of these had been dealt with by the end of 2007, leading to 594 decisions.

The Commissioner's annual awareness survey published in November 2007 tested awareness of FOISA by age group.

Highlights of the 2007 Annual Report include:

  • In 2007 alone, the Commissioner's caseload was 781 cases (including 482 new applications) and he made 249 decisions. 
  • 215 applications were closed without investigation and 135 were withdrawn or settled.
  • Case closure rates have improved year on year ? by the end of 2007 the caseload had been reduced to 182 applications.
  • In 2007, the Commissioner greatly reduced the backlog of cases which had built up since 2005, when applications far exceeded expectation. The target remains to close all excess cases by April 2008.
  • Public awareness of the FOI Act has increased to 74 per cent from 47 per cent in 2005.
  • 77 per cent of appeals came from ordinary members of the public, 7 per cent from elected representatives, 6 per cent from the media and 4 per cent from voluntary/campaigning organisations.
  • 89 per cent of authorities think they have become more open since FOISA, while 64 per cent of the public think they are now more open and accountable.
  • Nearly 1 in 10 respondents to the public opinion survey in 2007 had made a written request to a public authority.  86 per cent of these received all or some of the information they asked for.

Of the applications to the Commissioner during 2007, the breakdown by subject area was as follows:

  • administration and finance (17 per cent)
  • safety and crime (10 per cent)
  • commercial activities and contracts (9 per cent)
  • employment (9 per cent)
  • planning and property (6 per cent)
  • education and learning (5 per cent)
  • care services (4 per cent)
  • environment (3 per cent)
  • health (3 per cent)

For further information, please contact Carolynne Coole or Joanne Krukowski at Consolidated Communications on 0131 240 6421/6424 or email Scotland@consol.co.uk.

 

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