International relations

Guidance on the use of FOISA section 32

Under section 32(1)(a), information is exempt from disclosure if disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice substantially:

  • relations between the UK and any other State;
  • relations between the UK and any international organisation or international court;
  • the interests of the UK abroad; or
  • the promotion or protection by the UK of its interests abroad.

Under section 32(1)(b), information is exempt from disclosure if it is confidential information obtained from a State other than the UK or from an international organisation or international court.

All of the exemptions in section 32 are subject to the public interest test. This means that, even if an exemption applies, the information must be disclosed unless the public interest in withholding the information outweighs the public interest in disclosing it.

A public authority can refuse to confirm or deny whether it holds information which, if held, would be exempt under section 32, provided the authority is satisfied that revealing whether the information exists or is held would be contrary to the public interest.

Where the First Minister disagrees with a decision from the Commissioner concerning an exemption in section 32(1)(b) (not an exemption in section 32(1)(a)), the First Minister can overrule the Commissioner's decision provided the information is of exceptional sensitivity and provided the First Minister has consulted the other members of the Scottish Government (section 52 of FOISA). At the date of publication of this guidance, this power has never been used.

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Section 32 exemption briefing (PDF - 112 kB)Section 32 exemption briefing

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