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Commissioner Unveils Fresh Approach to Publishing Information

The Scottish Information Commissioner today [7 September] launched a consultation on proposals to revise the way that Scottish public authorities make information proactively available under freedom of information (FOI) law. The consultation, which will run until 29 October 2010, is seeking a range of views on the Commissioner's plans to enhance the information that authorities publish for the public.

Under FOI, every Scottish public authority is obliged to produce a 'publication scheme' ? a document that sets out the types of information that they commit to routinely publish. Authorities must then make this information ? which typically includes minutes of meetings, organisational policies and financial data - proactively available. The Commissioner is consulting on plans to build on best practice in Scotland by developing one model publication scheme for use by all Scottish public authorities. In doing so, he aims to encourage authorities to publish more information, while making the schemes easier for the public to use. The proposals will also mean that the Commissioner can move his own focus away from approving individual authority schemes, to actively assessing whether authorities are publishing information in accordance with the scheme.

Introducing the consultation, Kevin Dunion, the Scottish Information Commissioner, said,

"In these challenging times, as public authority resources are squeezed, my proposal for a single model publication scheme is a more efficient way of fulfilling legal obligations.

"Publishing information proactively has obvious benefits for the public, but it's also good for authorities. If the public can access the information they want to see directly, then this should reduce the demands on authorities of responding to individual information requests. Indeed, proactive disclosure of certain types of information may also help the public to understand the tough choices that authorities have to make."

The Commissioner's consultation paper is available at www.itspublicknowledge.info/home/News/PublicationSchemeConsultation.aspx, or by telephoning 01334 464610.

The consultation closes on Friday 29 October 2010.

Ends

For further information contact the Commissioner's Media Team on 01334 464610, out of hours on 07976 511752, or email media@itspublicknowledge.info

Notes to Editors:

About publication schemes:

  • The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (the Act) requires all Scottish public authorities to "adopt and maintain" a publication scheme which has the approval of the Scottish Information Commissioner. They have to publish their schemes and make the information available to the public. The Act permits the development of model publication schemes which may be adopted by groups of authorities with similar functions.
  • Since the introduction of publication schemes in 2004, the Commissioner has required that authorities submit their schemes to him for approval. Several Scottish public sector organisations have developed model schemes for their members, creating consistency across a sector and reducing the workload for individual authorities.
  • The Commissioner's proposal draws on the experience of the Information Commissioner who introduced a similar scheme for UK public authorities in 2009.

Media Resources:

About the freedom of information legislation:

  • The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (which came into force on 1st January 2005) provides individuals and organisations with a right to receive the information held by over 10,000 public authorities in Scotland. The Act applies to the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Government and the NHS in Scotland, as well as all of Scotland's police forces, local authorities and universities.
  • Under FOI any written request for information must be responded to within 20 working days. Information can only be withheld where the FOI Act expressly permits it. Information can be withheld, for example, where its release would breach someone's right to privacy under data protection legislation, or where it would harm national security or an organisation's commercial interests. Even where an exemption applies, however, in many cases the Act also says that information must be released if it is in the public interest to do so.
  • There is a three-step process to requesting information. This works as follows:
    • Step 1 ? the request stage ? an individual writes to an authority to request information. In most cases, the information will be provided first time, and there will be no need to move on to the later stages. Where information is refused, however, the FOI Act requires that the authority inform the requester of his/her rights of appeal in relation to the decision.
    • Step 2 ? the review stage ? the first stage of this right of appeal is to write to the authority asking it to review its handling of the original request. The authority has a further 20 working days to reconsider the request and respond. If it continues to withhold the information, it must notify the requester of his/her right to appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner
    • Step 3 ? the application stage ? an individual can appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner. On receipt of an appeal application, the Commissioner will conduct a full investigation into the public authority's handling of the request. If he finds that the authority has withheld information incorrectly, he can force the authority to release it. He may also uphold the authority's decision to withhold information.

About the Scottish Information Commissioner:

  • Kevin Dunion was appointed as the first Scottish Information Commissioner in February 2003. In February 2008 he was reappointed for a second, and final term, for four years until 2012.
  • He is also Co-Director of the Centre for Freedom of Information, a joint venture with the Dundee University School of Law.

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