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Filing cabinet with papers flying outDecisions Round-up: 9-13 July 2012

Scottish Information Commissioner Rosemary Agnew published six new decisions this week. Three decisions, in particular, provide important guidance on the handling of freedom of information (FOI) requests by Scottish public authorities.

In the decisions, published on the Scottish Information Commissioner's website, Ms Agnew:

  • Requires South Lanarkshire Council to release an external audit report which considers the incorrect calculation of a financial gap faced by the Council.
    The Council had asked auditors to carry out a review following the internal calculation of a financial gap as ?120 million, instead of ?80 million. It subsequently refused an FOI request for the audit report, citing the FOI Act exemption which protects information where disclosure would harm the exercise of an authority's functions in relation to law enforcement. In particular, the Council argued that disclosure would harm the audit process, inhibiting future participants from engaging fully with this process. Following consideration of the content of the report in question, the Commissioner did not agree that release would have the effect anticipated by the Council. The report primarily comprised factual information on Council processes, and salient points had already been published by the Council. The Commissioner also noted that the report did not identify individual Council officers, nor did it criticise or apportion blame to individuals. She therefore requires the report to be disclosed by the Council.  See: Decision 110/2012 Ms Joan Allan and South Lanarkshire Council
  • Supports the non-disclosure of information about complaints against independent care services by Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS).
    The applicant in this case sought a range of information about complaints against independent care services, which HIS investigates as part of its statutory duties. HIS provided some of the requested information, but withheld the remainder, citing the FOI exemptions that apply to information which is otherwise accessible, information where disclosure would harm the exercise of an authority's functions in relation to law enforcement, and personal information. Following investigation, the Commissioner concluded that HIS was entitled to refuse some of the withheld information because it was available elsewhere to the requester, and the remainder because it fell within the scope of the law enforcement exemption. In coming to this decision, the Commissioner agreed that disclosure of the specific information requested would inhibit participants from engaging fully with the with the complaints process in future. See: Decision 109/2012 Ms Marie Anne Austen and Healthcare Improvement Scotland

  • Requires the Scottish Ministers to confirm whether or not they held legal advice in May 2011 on the status of an independent Scotland within the European Union.
    A press statement was issued earlier this week on this decision, and is available at: www.itspublicknowledge.info/home/News/20120711.aspx.  The Scottish Ministers have indicated that they intend to appeal the decision.

The Commissioner's decisions are published in full at www.itspublicknowledge.info/decisions.

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 the Scottish Information Commissioner

The Scottish Information Commissioner is responsible for enforcing and promoting the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 (the EIRs) and the INSPIRE (Scotland) Regulations 2009. FOI and the EIRs came into force on 1 January 2005, giving anyone, anywhere in the world, important rights to access the information held by more than 10,000 public authorities in Scotland.

In summary, the Scottish Information Commissioner:

  • investigates appeals made to her when people are dissatisfied with how a public authority dealt with a request for information
  • issues legally enforceable decisions in relation to these appeals
  • promotes good practice amongst public authorities and
  • provides the public and public authorities with information about their rights and obligations under FOI laws.

The current Scottish Information Commissioner is Rosemary Agnew. Rosemary took up office on 1 May 2012, for a fixed period of six years.

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