What are the SNP hiding?

Concerns have been raised by Scotland’s Information Commissioner that the SNP Government is routinely and systematically rejecting Freedom of Information bids.

It is just over five years since Scotland’s Freedom of Information Act came into force, which the Scottish Government itself describes as having “introduced important new rights to access information held by public authorities and also requires more proactive publication of information”.

However, concerns have now been raised by Scotland’s Information Commissioner, Kevin Dunion, that the Scottish Government is routinely and systematically rejecting Freedom of Information bids.

The concerns date back to a ruling at the Court of Session last year in the case of Glasgow City Council v The Scottish Information Commissioner.

In the case, the judges ruled against a firm of solicitors who wanted to obtain copies of statutory notices held by Glasgow City Council. STV says of the ruling:

“They rejected the request stating the solicitors had asked for copies of the specific documents, rather than simply the information contained within the documents.”

The case has led to fears that the Scottish Government are interpreting the ruling in such a way that they will regularly refuse Freedom of Information requests that ask for Information contained within documents on the basis that a request has been made for information and not a document.

Expressing his concerns, Mr Dunion said:

“The Scottish Government’s interpretation of a recent court decision threatens to undermine the right-to- know regime. Last year, in the circumstances of a particular case, the court determined that freedom of information gives a right to “information”, not to specific “documents”.

“Scottish Government officials are writing to requesters refusing to respond to requests where there is a reference to documents. MSPs, journalists and voluntary workers are being told to try to rephrase their request. Some have tried and have still been refused. In exasperation, they are seeking my view.

“I find this to be a disturbing and unexpected turn of events.”

The commissioner then told BBC Radio Scotland that the SNP Government’s actions were “wrong” and “quite inexplicable”. As a result, the commissioner has issued guidance to the public sector which makes clear that:

“Authorities should not automatically refuse requests for copies of documents, as long as it is reasonably clear from the request that it is the information recorded in the document that the applicant wants.”

Reacting to the publication of the Guidance, a spokesperson for the Scottish Government said:

“The Scottish Government is committed to Freedom of Information, and it’s underpinning principles of openness and transparent Government.”

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.