Freedom of Information’s 250th birthday to be marked across the world

The ‘sestercentennial’ (250th Anniversary) of the world’s first freedom of information (FoI) law in Sweden, is being marked across the world, including in London and here in Scotland. Most celebrations take the form of discussions on the current state of FoI. Now over 100 countries have a ‘right to access information’ law.

The Swedish/Finnish law (called His Majesty’s Gracious Ordinance Relating to Freedom of Writing and of the Press) was signed into law on 2nd December 1766 after having been passed by the then Swedish Parliament (it also covered Finland at that time).

This was the original legislation for the ‘general principle of openness’ and required authorities to provide everyone with access to all official records. Its second translation into English was published in Edinburgh earlier this year. By Ian Giles and Peter Graves, it can be found on the Project Forsskal website.

As well as Sweden itself Scotland’s Campaign for Freedom of Information (CFoIS), is aware of events marking the anniversary from as far afield as Singapore and as close as Edinburgh where the Scottish Information Commissioner and Holyrood magazine holds its annual FOI Conference. In London, the UK Campaign for FOI will be participating in a ‘moderated discussion’ organized by human rights campaigners, ARTICLE 19, on December 8.

The Edinburgh Conference will look at the current state of Freedom of Information in Scotland and will hear from Kevin Stewart MSP, the Minister for Local Government and Housing. Of course Scotland’s law isn’t 250, but any examination of its provisions, shows increasing problems. Carole Ewart (Convener of CFoIS) said “As Scotland’s eleven-year old FoI law becomes increasingly patchy in coverage and complicated to use, we think it might be instructive to look at the history of FoI in a country with a much longer history of access and information rights.” The CFoIS is seeking to put its arguments to the recently announced Commission for Parliamentary Reform.

Although FoI in Scotland is a relatively recent law, the CFoIS argues that continually-changing methods of public service delivery – via the private sector, arms-length trusts, housing associations, joint boards, central agencies and the voluntary sector – have meant people’s legal rights to information vary, and getting information becomes more complex. This puts people off exercising their rights.

In addition the recent introduction of a two-tier response timetable sends a poor message about transparency and equality of access.

Further Information

For more information on CFoIS visit https://www.cfoi.org.uk/scotland/

For further information, please contact:
Chris Bartter – 07715 583 729 or Carole Ewart.

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