FOI Regime Needs 'Re-Think', Says Scottish Watchdog

Author:Out-Law.com &nbsp
Profession:Pinsent Masons LLP
 
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The freedom of information (FOI) regime needs a "re-think", Scotland's outgoing information commissioner has said.

In a report laid before the Scottish Parliament prior to leaving office to take up her new role as Scottish Public Services Ombudsman on 1 May, Rosemary Agnew said public authorities are currently getting bogged down in handling an increasing number of requests for information.

The authorities also adopt a tick-box approach to compliance with their duty to proactively publish certain information, "rather than an opportunity to use the framework to promote and enable the dissemination of information", she said.

Agnew suggested a "simpler framework to both administer and use" could be established to help "engender the fundamental cultural shift that is needed to move Scotland that stellar step from publication because it is something we have to do, to openness and transparency because that is how we want to be".

A new FOI regime could place the emphasis on "active dissemination" but include "the right to information as a back-stop", she said.

"FOI law as formulated has the consequence of diverting resources from the development of value adding dissemination of information, to trying to maintain statutory compliance with answering individual requests," Agnew said.

"While the intention has undoubtedly been a presumption of disclosure from the outset, the reality of its application is that there is greater emphasis on exemptions and provisions that prevent disclosure than on publication," she said.  "One of the consequences of this is that effort and resources (understandably) go into meeting statutory duties to respond to requests (and have a publication scheme) at the expense of being able to invest in dissemination of information as a way of doing business. Put another way, [public authorities] are so busy responding to requests to meet statutory duties, they often don't have the time or resource to develop a more open approach through publication."

In her report, Agnew highlighted the rising number of requests for...

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