MSPs to review Scotland’s Freedom of Information laws

Written by Tom Freeman on 11 January 2019 in News

The Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee has agreed to examine Freedom of Information law following questions over its effectiveness, as well as how public bodies, including the Scottish Government, deal with FOI requests

Daren Fitzhenry, the Scottish Information Commissioner - Scottish Parliament

Scotland’s current laws on transparency of public bodies are to be reviewed by MSPs.

The Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee has agreed to examine the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

The move follows questions over the effectiveness of the law, as well as how public bodies, including the Scottish Government, deal with FOI requests.

At a recent Holyrood conference, minister for parliamentary business Graeme Dey said that only five individuals were responsible for 20 per cent of all FOI requests last year.

The committee inquiry follows evidence from Daren Fitzhenry, the Scottish Information Commissioner, yesterday on his report on FOIs last June.

The report found requests from journalists, MSPs and political researchers were treated differently by government than requests from others, and the Scottish Government pledged to stop the practice.

The Scottish Government accepted all recommendations in the report.

Fitzhenry told MSPs the regulations “could do with being more agile” and should have a new code of practice to reflect things like the fact most households now have internet access.

He also suggested the power of the First Minister to veto a request should be reviewed.

“It’s been some time since the act was enacted to begin with, and society has changed somewhat over that time,” he said.

“We’ve got a society that demands more information and expects more information.”

Launching the review, committee convener Jenny Marra said: “Stakeholders have told the Committee that they have a number of concerns about the scope of the Freedom of Information Act and compliance with it. 

“Our Committee will examine the Act and will take evidence from a wide range of groups on how freedom of information can be strengthened and modernised to improve transparency in our public services.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Our significant improvement in performance has been recognised by the Scottish Information Commissioner, in the face of an unprecedented increase in information requests - a large proportion of which are from a small number of individuals.”

FOI will comprise one of the first laws to undergo formal post-legislative scrutiny by the committee in the expanded role it was given in 2016. Its first completed work was a report on the National Fraud Initiative in 2017.

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