New bodies unsure of responsibilities under FOI

Ongoing research examining how leisure and recreation trusts have accepted their responsibilities now they are covered by the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act (FOISA), is finding erratic approaches, a seminar celebrating 30 years of the Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland (CFoIS) heard on Friday.

Months after their inclusion in the Act, the research found that, while most trusts were aware of their responsibilities and had taken steps to implement the law, some still seemed unaware they were covered, and at least two refused to answer even the most basic questions, or quote the exemption under which they were refusing information.

The research, which continues, is being carried out by Calum Liddle, a PhD researcher at Strathclyde University, and CFoIS volunteer. He said: “While teething problems are to be expected, it is concerning when public organisations either don’t seem to be aware they are legally obliged to answer queries, or fail to give basic information.”

The trusts, recently designated by an order under Section 5 of FOISA, were sent three questions asking about their preparation for FOI Law – who had they designated to deal with this function; had they sent anyone to the training that the Information Commissioner had put on, and how many requests had they had since being designated?

Of the 25 trusts that the Scottish Information Commissioner has identified as being newly covered by the designation, only 19 have so far replied. Two refused to fully answer the queries and at least one seemed unaware they were covered. The research continues and more detailed results are expected, as the deadline for responses hasn’t yet been reached.

The successful seminar, scheduled to also mark today (Sunday) as International Right to Know Day, discussed the links between FOI and Human Rights. Noted human rights lawyer, Aidan O’Neil QC, surveyed the increasing link between the two in a European context , but noted the reluctance of domestic courts to include FOI as a ‘right’.

Carole Ewart, Convener of the CFoIS said: “The Campaign has for some time been exploring the links between FOI and Human Rights, and it is clear that they are interdependent. However their exact relationship seems to be in a state of flux. At a time when we are discussing the governance of both Scotland and the UK, it is important to enhance the ability of people to hold government to account and that requires robust access to information rights.”

The seminar celebrated 30 years of the CFoIS, with reflections by founder member Dr David Goldberg, of some of the people who had been key to its success in Scotland and the UK. He celebrated Des Wilson, the New Zealander who founded the Campaign in 1984; Peter Gibson, Director of the Scottish Consumer Council and Goldberg’s Co-Chair of the Campaign in Scotland; and Jim Wallace – now Lord Wallace of Tankerness, the Minister who steered FOISA onto the statute books.

Further information:

Chris Bartter 07715 583 729

Carole Ewart

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