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SIC guidance on validity of requests following CoS Opinion

The Scottish Information Commissioner has issued new guidance explaining the practical effects for public authorities and applicants of the Opinion of the Court of Session in Glasgow City Council v Scottish Information Commissioner [2009] CSIH 73 (see earlier blog post here). The Opinion addressed some important aspects of the FOI (Scotland) Act, particularly in relation to how information requests should be framed and whether a request made on behalf of another (unnamed) person is valid. The SIC is urging public authorities to read the guidance and review their procedures in light of it.

The guidance states:

Making or receiving requests for documents or copies of documents
“FOISA provides a right to obtain information and not a right to obtain copies of specific documents. However, this does not mean that a request for a copy of a document is automatically invalid, as long as it is reasonably clear from the request that it is the information recorded in the document that the applicant wants. If it is not reasonably clear, the public authority can contact the applicant to obtain clarification.”

Providing information in response to a request for documents or copies of documents
“Applicants cannot insist on receiving copies of specific documents, but only receiving information. However, unless the applicant has asked for the information to be provided in a digest or summary, the information provided must be a complete and accurate version of the information contained in the specific documents. This means that it may be easier for public authorities just to provide copies.”

The “true applicant”
“An information request must state the name of the applicant. There is nothing to stop someone making a request on behalf of another person. However, the person the request is being made on behalf of must be named. A public authority which receives a request on behalf of another, unnamed, person has a duty to provide reasonable advice and assistance to the person who submitted the request to provide an explanation of what needs to be done in order for a valid request to be made.”

A summary of the guidance and a link to the detailed guidance are on the SIC website here.

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