Transparency and Accountability – Legal Reform is Urgently Needed

CFoIS urges all MSPs to support our ‘Call for Action’ and endorse and prioritise delivery of four actions designed to protect and strengthen the public’s enforceable right to access information:

  1. Use current powers under Section 5 of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FoISA) to extend enforceable access to information rights to health and social care services delivered by the private sector, particularly care homes.  The Scottish Government held a consultation on the issue in 2019 and published a report on responses in March 2020.
  2. Reform FoISA to ensure the law delivers openness, transparency accountability and empowerment. The consultation process needs to begin urgently, informed by a Scottish Parliament report of May 2020 and from CFoIS of January 2020. Scotland’s new FoI law needs to be in place 20 years after the first – by 2022!
  3. Acknowledge that the right to access information in the public interest is a human right. Consequently the detail of FoISA reform should be informed by human rights law.  The enforceable right to access information must align with the design and delivery of Scotland’s distinctive human rights strategy.
  4. Work with the UK Government to sign, ratify and implement the Council of Europe’s Tromso Convention which provides a general right of access to official documents held by public authorities. 

Freedom of Information matters now fall within the remit of the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments (SPPA) Committee of the Scottish Parliament.

Please support our ‘Call for Action’ as we want a cross party alliance to ensure FoI law is reformed and fit for purpose.  Download the document here , which includes a report card on the last session’s FoI activity.  Ask your MSPs to commit to the four actions in their Committee work and in the Scottish Parliament Chamber.

Training Collaboration

CFoIS is pleased to work with UNISON Scotland to deliver free training on accessing information.  More dates are now available and are open to UNISON members and staff.  Click on the button above for the details.

CFoIS is keen to collaborate with organisations to deliver training so we can ensure more of the public, and members of staff, are FoI rights aware.  Please contact us for more information  

21st June 2021 CFoIS has today launched a report detailing its work and focus on drafting a Bill to reform the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FoISA). 

The report’s publication coincides with the fourth anniversary of  the unanimous vote at the Scottish Parliament which registered MSPs concerns about the operation of FoISA. The report is available here. 

Spotlight on Business and Human Rights in Scotland – Transparency, Accountability and Scrutiny  This online event  on Tuesday 15th June 2021 secured a wide audience and heard from expert speakers on:

  • A UK Failure to Prevent Law – Gemma Freedman, UNISON International
  • The United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) and an update on first-ever UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) against corruption – Mathias Huter UNCAC Coalition, the global civil society network for the implementation and monitoring of the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC)
  • Business and Human Rights – Progress on 31 Guiding Principles Professor John Ferguson, Co-Director of the Centre for Social and Environmental Accounting Research (CSEAR) at St Andrew’s University
  • ‘Unsafe for Scrutiny – journalists and a free press’ – Susan Coughtrie, Project Director Foreign Policy Centre

It is expected that a Scottish Network drawing on global activism and expertise will be launched on 28th September 2021 to coincide with International Right to Know Day.  It will align itself with the UN’s UNGPs10+ project which is examining ‘drivers and opportunities for speeding and scaling up UNGPs implementation over the next decade.’ The project is dedicating attention to the strongest drivers for changing business practice which are:

More details to follow soon.

The next online meeting of SPIF will take place on Monday 21st June 10am – 12.30 on ‘Transparency and Accountability – Reforming FoI Rights and Duties in Scotland’.  The meeting is supported by NUJ Scotland. Registration to attend SPIF is free and via Eventbrite

21st April 2021  The Campaign for Freedom of Information has launched its Manifesto for the Scottish Parliament elections in May 2021.  The launch is on 21st April, exactly 46 months after MSPs at the Scottish Parliament agreed unanimously to begin the process of reforming the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FoISA) but the matter remains outstanding.  We hope you support our Manifesto and raise the contents with candidates who may contact you.  However, we appreciate the social and physical distancing rules, caused by the pandemic, makes the election campaign quite different from usual.  

The next online meeting of SPIF is confirmed for 24th March and will focus on ‘‘Open Government – international trends?’   The keynote speaker is Helen Darbishire from Access Info Europe, a member of the Steering Committee of the OGP and Chair of the UNCAC Coalition, the network that coordinates civil society activity in monitoring and promoting the UN Convention against Corruption.  Doreen Grove, Open Government Partnership Lead, at the Scottish Government Strategy Unit will also speak.

Registration is free through Eventbrite. Subsequent dates for your diary for the online meetings are 24th May and 25th June.   

April 2021 CFoIS is currently developing proposals for a new FoI Bill for Scotland  to secure transparency and accountability.  A modern and robust law should take account of how people access information. Increasingly the presumption is that access will be online given the ‘digital first’ approach adopted by many publicly, funded services.   However if people cannot access digital services, it is hugely difficult to discover what is already published as well as make an FoI request. Therefore we were pleased to note publication of the Scottish Government and COSLA’s digital strategy and the commitment to openness in digital thinking:

‘For Scotland to thrive in this digital world, our response must embrace three key opportunities: designing and implementing technology in a secure, efficient and user centred way, realising the potential of data to improve services, increase efficiency and deliver better outcomes, and transforming our culture and the way we work through digital thinking, with its emphasis on openness, networking and agility.’

Openness is achieved by proactively publishing information and making the information accessible. If the search engine is effective and the information can be found, there is no need to make an FoI request. Pro-actively publishing the kind of information people want, instead of what organisations think they want, remains a challenge and our proposals will include specific recommendations drawing on other commitments such as in the National Performance Framework.

Our report will be available in June 2021.

March 2021   The Scottish Government has now submitted its response to the Public Audit and Post Legislative Scrutiny Committee of the Scottish Parliament.  The response addresses the issues raised in the Committee’s report which recommends detailed  reform of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FoISA).  The Government has agreed to ‘a public consultation exercise early in the next Parliament to seek views on legislative change.’ 

Whilst this is good news,  the consultation is not promised for 2021 and even if that happens revised legislation is unrealistic until at least 2022 which is five years after the Scottish Parliament voted unanimously  for post -legislative Scrutiny of FoISA.  MSPs were persuaded of identified failings in the 15 years old legislation, issues about practice, strengthening enforcement and whether FoISA was keeping pace with a fast changing environment on how communications are stored and transmitted such as the relevance of What’s App to record keeping of decisions made.  

Due to a grant from the Andrew Wainright Reform Trust, CFoIS is currently examining the Committee’s Report of May 2020, the Scottish Government’s response of February 2021 and comparing it to our report of January 2020 evidencing how FoISA should be reformed.  Subsequently we will publish two reports: an updated analysis of how FoISA needs to change along with a draft Bill.   

On Monday 21st June 2021, the fourth anniversary of the parliamentary motion, we plan to host an event on legislative reform.  It will also look ahead to 2022 which is 20 years since FoISA was passed by the Scottish Parliament and will reflect how much has changed in the business of government and communications technology.   It is anticipated that the meeting will be online. We will keep you posted on progress. 

The next online meeting of SPIF is 24th March  on ‘Open Government – international trends?’   The keynote speaker is Helen Darbishire from Access Info Europe and Chair of the UNCAC Coalition, the network that coordinates civil society activity in monitoring and promoting the UN Convention against Corruption.  Registration is free through Eventbrite. Please join us.

March 2021 The Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland has made a written submission to the independent review of the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA), which was set up by the UK Government. The HRA gives domestic effect to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR),  although not all ECHR rights are listed.   The review focuses on a narrow area that is perceived by the UK Government to be problematic. However the alleged problem(s) selected across two ‘themes’ do not resonate with any concerns we are aware of regarding the operation of the HRA.  Any concerns articulated firmly focus on the absence of access to justice for people when there is a breach of the rights listed in the HRA. 

The next meeting of the Scottish Public Information Forum (SPIF) will focus on the practice of FoI during COVID-19. The speakers are:  Daren Fitzhenry,  the Scottish Information Commissioner, who published a Special Report ”The Impact of Covid-19 on FOI in Scotland’ on 17th December 2020 and Fiona Montgomery from UNISON Scotland.   It will take place online on 26th February  from 10.30-12 noon. Please join us.  Registration is free at Eventbrite

CFoIS is delighted to announce that it has received a grant from the Andrew Wainright Reform Trust as a contribution to the core costs of continuing our campaign for accountability of public bodies in Scotland under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.  We will announce our programme of work shortly and look forward to your participation in it. 

28th September is the UN’s International Day of Universal Access to Information (IDUAI). Recognised by UNESCO since 2015, it has been celebrated by civil society since 2002, when Right to Know Day was first established in Sofia (Bulgaria), during the foundational meeting of the Freedom of Information Advocates Network FOIAnet. In 2020, the Day’s focus is on to the right to information in times of crisis and on the advantages of having constitutional, statutory and/or policy guarantees for public access to information to save lives, build trust and help the formulation of sustainable policies through and beyond the COVID-19 crisis. Access to information has been recognised as a fundamental right by multiple international human rights bodies, including the UN Human Rights Committee, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights.

CFoIS has published a briefing on the case for deleting Section 36 of the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Continuity) (Scotland) Bill which is currently being considered at the Scottish Parliament. The briefing explains that the proposed new legal provisions preventing publication of information by Environmental Standards Scotland are entirely unnecessary as the existing exceptions within the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 (EISRs) are sufficient.  Section 36 is simply unnecessary and the impact will be in conflict with human rights law and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It useful to remember that both human rights and SDG compliance are part of the Scottish Government’s National Performance Framework (NPF). Briefing.

Accessing Accountability The Scottish Government’s report on its compliance with the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FoISA) during COVID-19 is the subject of scrutiny today by the COVID-19 Committee of the Scottish Parliament (2nd September). The bi-monthly reports are required by Scotland’s Coronavirus Acts. CFoIS has prepared a briefing for MSPs which is available HERE. CFoIS welcomes this reporting process and MSP scrutiny as it provides transparency and accountability in the conduct and impact of Government during the pandemic.

Good News! MSPs at the Scottish Parliament have restored FoISA response timescales to 20 days and for internal reviews to 20 days too. This is a significant and welcome decision. Additionally, MSPs have: specified a ‘public interest’ be applied when the Scottish Information Commissioner is considering appeals relating to COVID-19; requires regular reports on Scottish Government FoI practice. Watch out for further updates. FoISA is the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

FoI Law is set to change following publication of the Inquiry Report of the Public Order and Post Legislative Scrutiny Committee of the Scottish Parliament. CFoIS welcomes the report and acknowledges the Committee’s evidence led conclusions on a range of issues including: increasing the range of publicly funded bodies covered, the need to escalate pro-active publication, the necessity of ensuring correspondence by social media is properly captured for future disclosure and the essential nature of record keeping and record management.  CFoIS agrees that there needs to be consultation on the detail of the new legislation as, given some of the Committee’s recommendations, there is a danger that a complex system is created for FoI rights whereas the current system benefits from simplicity. 

As part of our drive to promote the right to official information to maintain transparency and accountability during the COVID-19 emergency, CFoIS has produced a briefing for civil society.  The right of people to find out about how they are governed and how their services are delivered remains.

The Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 – see our latest  CFoIS Briefing on the impact of the legislation on FoI rights and access updates on our COVID-19 FoI Initiative. Read our Briefing for MSPs to inform debate on the Bill. CFoIS thanks our public service workers for their hard work, courage and service.

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.

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.

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.

The report on Post legislative scrutiny of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 was agreed in March 2020 but publication has been delayed. Get updates at the Public Audit and Post Legislative Scrutiny Committee at