Sharing Experience

Centre for FOI

The Centre for Freedom of Information, a collaboration between the Commissioner and Dundee Law School, celebrated its first anniversary in February with the launch of its Spring seminar series. The Centre was set up to provide space to explore, reflect on and discuss current FOI issues and practice.

Since its inception in 2009, Centre events have attracted more than 500 delegates, with delegates in 2010 travelling from as far afield as Sweden and Hungary to participate.

Spring series

The series launched with a seminar exploring the relationship between FOI and commercial interests, at which speakers and delegates considered how FOI law works alongside public procurement rules. Professor Allyson Pollock brought a sharp practical focus to proceedings, with a discussion of public interest considerations in her research into public health contracts.

In March, the Centre welcomed Professor Dan Metcalfe of the Washington College of Law, to a seminar in the Royal College of Surgeons. Professor Metcalfe reflected on his experience over 25 years of guiding US federal agencies on the administration of the US FOI Act, including the supervision of more than 500 FOI and Privacy Act lawsuits. His experience of working for many different administrations and the development of an association for American information professionals were of particular interest in the discussion that followed.

Autumn series

Over the summer, the Centre asked seminar participants for their views of the programmes held so far, to inform the development of future seminars.

The Autumn series then began with a seminar exploring new developments in FOI, looking at developments in Scottish Government policy, reviewing the scope of the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations and learning from recent FOI appeals in Scotland and the UK.

The Centre also considered the 'vexatious requests' provision in freedom of information law in November, comparing it against the concept of 'vexatiousness' in civil litigation. The seminar discussed the practical approaches taken by Scottish public authorities to deal with challenging behaviour in the complaints process, sparking audience discussion in which practitioners and requesters shared very different experiences.

New directions

During 2010 the Centre also hosted a round table discussion, chaired by Sir John Elvidge, Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government, to consider the development of a research proposal for the Centre. The discussion involved a number of key stakeholders, with the Centre now hoping to attract funding in 2011 to establish its research activity. Alongside this, Dundee Law School is also developing study opportunities in FOI.

For information on future Centre events, sign up to the Commissioner's newsletter at http://www.itspublicknowledge.info/signup.asp.

For papers and presentations from past events, visit www.centrefoi.org.uk.