Commissioner launches FOI Handbook
Kevin Dunion's 515-page FOI Handbook, Freedom of Information in Scotland in Practice, was published on 31 October 2011 by Dundee University Press. The book provides an in-depth guide to FOI in Scotland, including detailed commentary on the provisions of both the FOI Act and the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations, and examination of the key issues to consider when interpreting the most challenging aspects of both laws.
Copies of the book can be obtained from Dundee University Press, Amazon and bookshops. The book is also available at a reduced rate as part of the Holyrood FOI Conference package. See www.holyrood.com/foi for more details.
There have been a number of new developments on our website in recent weeks. These include:
- New home page
The home page has been re-launched to provide site users with better sign posting to the range of content available across the site. A new picture banner points visitors to new content and events. The new homepage can be viewed at www.itspublicknowledge.info.
- Assessing best practice
We've added a new section to our website on "Assessing best practice". The new section includes details of our enforcement strategy, downloadable copies of all the assessment reports published to date, and self-help assessment tools to enable authorities to evaluate their own FOI practices. Access it here.
- FOI for elected representatives
New web pages for elected representatives were launched on 1 November. The new resources contain information, guidance and advice on FOI for MSPs and councillors, and are available through either www.itspublicknowledge.info/msp or www.itspublicknowledge.info/councillor.
The launch of these new resources was supported by an event for MSPs and their staff in the Scottish Parliament. Jackie Baillie MSP (who also sponsored the event), Sandy Longmuir of the Scottish Rural Schools Network and Michelle Stewart of the C-Diff Justice Group talked about their own FOI experiences. Sandy and Michelle's stories are also featured on the new web pages.
Charging for environmental information
We have recently revised our briefing on Fees and Excessive Cost of Compliance with a particular focus on updating the guidance on charging under the EIRs. The guidance on when charging can be applied under the EIRs has changed. The briefing also includes advice about assessing whether charges are reasonable, and the EIR duty for an authority to publish its schedule of charges.
Click here for the updated guidance.
Festival of Politics
In August the Commissioner held an event as part of the Scottish Parliament's annual Festival of Politics. The event - Freedom of Information?There's a website for that! - explored the impact that the internet and new media are having on FOI and open government in Scotland.
The session heard from Edinburgh resident Michael Traill, a regular user of FOI who also blogs about his experiences, and Ben Plouviez of the Scottish Government, who spoke about the government's own approach to open data. Speaker sessions were followed by a lively audience discussion.
Full audio from the event is available for those who missed it here:
Festival of Politics 2011 - Audio report
Voluntary Sector and FOI
Our programme of promoting FOI rights and awareness to the voluntary sector continues, with FOI workshops held recently in Inverness, Glasgow and Cumbernauld. These included workshops delivered as part of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisation's Annual General Meeting, and during the 2011 national conference for Scotland's Third Sector Interface. Feedback from the workshops has been extremely positive with delegates keen to learn more about their FOI rights, and to hear about how others from the sector have put them into practice.
Activity planned for the remainder of the financial year includes an FOI/Data Protection workshop in partnership with staff from the (UK) Information Commissioner's Office at the SCVO's 2012 Gathering, as well as Regional Roadshows in Edinburgh and Aberdeen.
Facebook page launches
The Scottish Information Commissioner has recently launched a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/scottishinformationcommissioner. The page provides updates on the work of the organisation - events, news, new publications - as well as links to external content that we think will be of interest to the FOI community. Use the link above to log onto the page, and then click on the "like" button to have our updates delivered directly into your own Facebook news feed.
We've also published some information for page users at http://www.itspublicknowledge.info/home/News/Facebook.aspx
Social media requests
There has also been discussion recently about whether FOI requests received through social media, in particular Facebook and twitter, are "valid". The Commissioner's view is that, provided the request satisfies the requirements of section 8 of the FOI Act - the request needs to be made in writing, it must include a name and contact details, and describe the information sought.
Where the request hasn't met these requirements, authorities will, of course, be expected to assist the requester to make a valid request under the FOI duty to advise and assist requesters.
The Frequently Asked Questions section of our website provides more advice on requests for information made through social media at www.itspublicknowledge.info/FAQ.
EIRs and the two-stage public interest test
A ruling in the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has provided further guidance on the interpretation of the public interest test under the EIRs. The ruling related to a case where an authority (OFCOM) had applied two of the exceptions under the UK EIRs to the same information.
The ECJ's ruling, issued in July, found that, when more than one exception applies to the same information, a two stage public interest test should be considered.
In the first stage of this test, authorities should consider the public interest arguments in relation to each exception separately. In the second stage, authorities can then go on to cumulatively weigh all the grounds for refusing to disclose, against all of the public interests served by disclosure.
The full text of the ECJ's ruling is available at: www.bailii.org/eu/cases/EUECJ/2011/C7110.html
The Commissioner's briefings are currently being updated to reflect the ruling.
Centre for Freedom of Information in Scotland
The Centre for Freedom of Information in Scotland, the partnership between the Commissioner and the University of Dundee's School of Law, had a very successful autumn seminar series, with one event focussing on a range of current developments in FOI and a second comparing the different appeal routes available under both the Scottish and UK FOI laws. Presentations and materials from all previous events is available on the Centre's website at:
The next Centre event is planned for 21 February 2012, and will focus on current FOI developments, including the FOI Amendment Bill consultation which the Scottish Government intends to launch shortly. Register for further details at the website above.