The Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill has been passed by the Scottish Parliament which will have draconian and far reaching implications on the exercise of FoI rights just when people really need to hold public bodies to account for decisions made. This sets a very bad example internationally. However CFoIS believes we cannot start to comment without first stating that we acknowledge and applaud the hard work and dedication of Scotland’s public sector workers. Thank you for your service! Read our press release issued tonight, 1st April 2020 10pm
The Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill – oppose FoI provisions
It is useful to remember during the debate at the Scottish Parliament today, 1st April 2020, that Scotland is most definitely not leading the way on FoI rights. In this matter, following the example of the UK Parliament is a better approach. There was nothing to extend FOI deadlines in the UK emergency legislation on Coronavirus. The government deemed it un-necessary as the ICO put out a statement saying “we will not be penalising public authorities for prioritising other areas or adapting their usual approach during this extraordinary period.”
The response to a recent UK Parliament Question ( PQ) on 18th March was illuminating. Conor McGinn (St Helens North) on 18th March 2020 asked the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, “whether he has plans to waive obligations on local authorities to reply to freedom of information requests as a result of the covid-19 outbreak”. The Holding answer received on 23 March 2020 from Mr Simon Clarke was: “During the current pandemic, we recognise that resources may be unavailable to deal with FOI Requests. Although statutory deadlines will not be extended, the Regulator, the Information Commissioner, has stated that organisations will not be penalised during this extraordinary period.”
CFoIS urges all MSPs to oppose Schedule 6 Part 2 of the The Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill as we are persuaded that Scotland can retain robust, enforceable FoI rights during this pandemic emergency.
The Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill was introduced by the Scottish Government to manage the impact of this pandemic emergency on all our lives. However, the legal changes to FoI rights are excessive including giving public bodies up to five months to respond to an initial request for information under FoISA, and a further 5 months to carry out an internal review of its decision to refuse all or part of the information requested. This is a disproportionate and unreasonable approach even at a time of a national emergency. In this briefing for MSPs and in our press release dated 31st March 2020, CFoIS sets out the case for the public’s right to know to be protected whilst giving public bodies the flexibility to target staff in critical areas such as health and social care.
Despite the shortage of time, please contact your MSP and urge them to support reform of the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill.
Right Health – Read our Blog about FoI rights and COVID-19. We thank people for their efforts to keep themselves, their families and the Nation safe and we want our rights respecting society to continue to enjoy the best of health!
In line with official advice on health and social protection, we have decided to postpone the next meeting of the Scottish Public Information Forum (SPIF). We plan to reschedule and will advertise the new date in due course. In the meantime, we will post online a number of written reports to keep you up to date with FoI developments. Just click on the SPIF button above. We extend our best wishes to you and yours, CFoIS.
Our new briefing ‘Names of Publicly-Owned Companies Remain Confidential‘ is now avilable which explains how a simple request for information became a complex and lengthy matter. The briefing provides a timeline and analysis of how FoI law can stop the public knowing the names of companies it owns. A second problem is that despite 15 years of FoI law being operational, we still don’t have a complete list of all the public companies in Scotland despite a right to ask them for information under FoI. If you don’t know the name of the company then you can’t ask it for information. Confused? We hope the briefing provides some clarity of how the law needs to be changed and practice radically improved. Read it HERE.
We are a tiny organisation and able to do comparatively little, which is why the role of campaigning organisations in Scotland needs to be better celebrated, encouraged and enabled.
CFoIS launched its report on reforming the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 on 21st January 2020 at an event at the Scottish Parliament. The report is available here.
13/01/2020 – The Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland (CFoIS) has prepared a submission to inform the deliberations of the UN Human Rights Committee on the ‘List of issues prior to reporting’ (LOIPR) for the United Kingdom on 8th March 2020 at its 128th session. The CFoIS submission focuses on Article 19 (2) of the ICCPR as access to information enables people, journalists, bloggers, civil society and NGOs to be better informed as a right and as a defence to ‘fake news’. CFoIS believes that accessing information is a gateway to all our rights and raised four key issues as they relate to the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act (FoISA), brought into force in 2005:
Issue 1: The Scottish Government should commit to strengthen FoISA through legislative reform and reinstate a powerful right for the public to hold the public sector to account. Reform should include a duty on pro-active publication and a timetable should also be published for the legislative reform of FoISA.
Issue 2: The Scottish Government should undertake to extend the designation of bodies under Section 5 of FoISA so that publicly funded services and services of a public nature are covered.
Issue 3: The Scottish Government should place RTI and ATI within the human rights framework as a matter of principle and, to emphasise the interdependence of rights which includes acknowledging the importance of journalists in standing up for and giving effect to the right to freedom of expression.
Issue 4: The Scottish Government should set out what specific, deliberate and progressive actions it is undertaking to: realise human rights in Scotland for rights holders; require duty bearers to comply with existing law.The full submission can be read here.
In 2020, CFoIS celebrates the 15th Birthday of The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act (FoISA). FoISA came into force on 1st January 2005 although it was passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2002. During the next 15 years CFoIS wants FoI rights to flourish. In 2020 CFoIS believes FoISA must be reformed to restore its original strength and to ensure it is nimble enough to adapt to how information is stored and used as well as how communications happen between decision makers. Requestors also need help and FoISA can ensure the process of asking for information remains simple and introduce a duty to ‘advise and assist’ people when they are appealing against a decision to refuse to disclose all or some of the information requested.
Post legislative scrutiny of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 is underway at the Scottish Parliament and the Minister, Graeme Dey, gave evidence on 19th December. CFoIS looks forward to the Committee’s report early in 2020. Keep up to date with the work of the Public Audit and Post Legislative Scrutiny Committee at https://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/CurrentCommittees/111249.aspx The CFoIS submission and letter to the Committee can be read in our publications section.
The Scottish Government has concluded its consultation on extending the type of bodies designated under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 – designation means you can enforce the right to access information. The CFoIS submission can be read in our publications section.