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Archives for CFOI

Revised Freedom of Information Code of Practice

The Campaign has responded to the Cabinet Office’s consultation on a draft revised code of practice under section 45 of the Freedom of Information Act. The revised code would replace the current one that was issued in November 2004, shortly before the Act came fully into force.

Although the draft revised code is said to provide guidance on ‘best practice’ under the Act we think it needs to go significantly further to justify that description. As it stands the proposed code:

  • does not fully reflect changes in the interpretation of the Act resulting from Upper Tribunal and court decisions
  • describes as ‘best practice’ some measures which are required under the Act, implying that these statutory requirements are optional
  • fails to properly explain the advice that should be provided when requests exceed the cost limit and how the Act’s provisions on vexatious requests should operate
  • is weaker in key respects that the 2004 version of the code it is intended to replace, omitting numerous helpful passages from it. The effect is to limit rather than extend the spread of good practice.

In the Campaign’s view the new code should be substantially improved before it is introduced.

Minutes of SPIF Meeting Thursday 28th September 2017

Minutes of the Scottish Public Information Forum (SPIF) meeting on Thursday 28th September 2017 at the Albany Learning and Conference Centre in Glasgow.

‘Get it Minuted Campaign’ launched

The Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland (CFoIS) is launching a ‘Get it Minuted’ Campaign and is calling on people and organisations to ask and insist that there are agendas, notes and minutes for any meetings with the Scottish Government. The two actions which can be taken up by the public across Scotland as well as organisations, staff members, volunteers, those who govern and those who manage, are:

  • People and organisations should ask and insist that there are agendas, notes and minutes for any meetings they participate in with the Scottish Government. This will help organisations too as it stops them going around in circles repeatedly discussing the same matters at meetings.
  • Add your voice to the call that all meetings must be minuted or a ‘note’ taken. By changing culture and practice, recording discussions and decisions at all meetings will be understood as an obligation of good government which cannot be ignored.

The Campaign is launched in response to concerns that the Scottish Government is undermining transparency and accountability by failing to issue agendas and take notes and minutes of meetings with a range of external parties. Organisations that have already signed up to the Campaign include UNISON Scotland and the Scottish Council on Deafness.

The Campaign is launched as CFoIS publishes its report on Scottish Government ‘Minute Taking’. The report concludes that on a day to day basis the spread of guidance is unhelpful. The language on who is responsible for note and minute taking creates loopholes which, without a committed culture of openness, can be exploited. Consequently, there is a negative impact on transparency and accountability. The loopholes must be plugged so that the process matches the purpose, which is to provide a record of who was there, what was discussed, what was agreed and actions to be taken by whom and when. Minutes provide the context to policy, funding and service decisions.

The report also highlights that over six months after the Scottish Parliament unanimously agreed to an independent inquiry into the way that the Scottish Government deals with FoI requests and to undertake post-legislative scrutiny of the Freedom of Information Act 2002 (FoISA), neither inquiry has started.

Carole Ewart, Convener of CFoIS said today:
“‘Get it Minuted’ is launched as our contribution to the UN’s year-long campaign to mark the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 19 includes the ‘right to access information’ so it is useful to remember that we are still trying to make that right effective in Scotland today. The UN is calling on people to ‘Stand up for Human Rights’ with a gain for individuals as well as their families and communities. That’s why we want people and organisations to insist that all meetings with the Scottish Government are minuted or at least a note is published.”

Dave Watson, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at UNISON Scotland, said:
“We have been concerned for some time about cases of Freedom of Information requests about some Scottish Government meetings getting nowhere because it seems there were no minutes taken and no other paperwork available.

The Get It Minuted campaign is very important. We hope that the Scottish Government takes action immediately, but in the meantime we will be calling for proper records of all meetings. Transparency is essential for the human right to access information.”

Janis McDonald, Chief Executive of the Scottish Council on Deafness said:
“Producing a written record for people to easily access and read is the gateway to understanding what is going on for many people, including those who are deaf and hard of hearing. The Scottish Council on Deafness (SCoD) recognises that open government, effective engagement and equal empowerment need to be underpinned by consistently applied rules on principles of communication which meet the needs of Scotland’s diverse population. SCoD supports the ‘Get it Minuted’ campaign as a way for the Scottish Government and public sector generally to better engage with deaf and hard of hearing people.”

For further information please contact: Carole Ewart cfoiscot@gmail.com

Notes
1. The report on Minute Taking can be downloaded here.
2. The theme for International Human Rights Day was launched by the UN on 10th December 2017. Go to http://www.un.org/en/events/humanrightsday/
3. Article 19: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
4. The Scottish Parliament motion was passed on 21st June 2017 and is available on its website at http://www.parliament.scot/Chamber_Minutes_20170621.pdf
5. CFoIS was established in 1984 to secure a legal right of access to information so that people could find out about how they are governed and how their services are delivered. We have been involved in all the major developments of the legislation at the Scottish level. Go to our website for more information https://www.cfoi.org.uk/scotland/

FOI too slow to contribute to Brexit debate, says Campaign

By Elisa.rolle (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) operates too slowly to contribute to the Brexit debate,  according to the Campaign for Freedom ofInformation.

The Campaign’s director, Maurice Frankel, has submitted a witness statement to the High Court supporting an attempt to use the common law and Article 10 of the ECHR instead of FOIA to obtain government studies on Brexit. The statement says the FOI process is too slow to obtain them in time to inform public debate before the Brexit deadline. The UK is due to leave the EU at the end of March 2019.
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Freedom of Information – A Journalist’s Perspective

Monday 11th December, 17:30 – 19:30
Albany Learning Centre, 44 Ashley Street, Glasgow G3 6DS

Martin Rosenbaum, a freedom of information specialist for BBC News, will deliver a lecture to mark International Human Rights Day. The Lecture is co-hosted by the Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland and GCVS. Entry is free but by ticket only.

Please register via Eventbrite.

Using the FOI Act training, 7 February 2018

Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

When: Wednesday 7 February 2018
Where: Free Word Centre, 60 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3GA
Time: Registration 9:45 am, course 10 am – 5:00 pm

Do you want to learn how to use the Freedom of Information Act? Are you already using the Act, but want to know more about how key provisions are being interpreted?

Making a FOI request is straightforward but making an effective request can be more difficult. Requests that ask for too much information can be refused – and some information may be exempt. But a well thought-out request can have a powerful impact, revealing that a policy isn’t working, an authority isn’t doing its job or generating key information for your research.

The course is designed to help campaigners, voluntary organisations and researchers make the most of the Act and the parallel Environmental Information Regulations. It explains the legislation, shows how to draft clear and effective requests and describes how to challenge unjustified refusals. The course’s interactive sessions will encourage you to test your own FOI drafting skills. The course is aimed at both beginners and those who are already using the Act but want to do so more effectively.
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Report on International Conference of Information Commissioners 2017

Report by Chris Bartter of the Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland summarising the discussions which took place at the International Conference of Information Commissioners in Manchester, 19-21 September 2017. The report was presented to the Scottish Public Information Forum on 28 September 2017.

Concerns over potential FOI inquiry to feature in ‘Right to Know Day’ meeting

A second meeting of the newly revived Scottish Public Information Forum (SPIF) takes place in Glasgow on International Right to Know Day (28 September) and will discuss concerns about the way Scotland’s political leaders are likely to interpret calls for inquiries and reviews of the FOI regime.

The SPIF, revived by the Campaign for information in Scotland (CFoIS) is joining forces with the Glasgow Council for the Voluntary Sector (GCVS) to host this event, aiming to raise awareness amongst community organisations, services and individuals of their ¨Right to Know”.
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Information Commissioner & Tribunal Decisions – what do they mean in practice

Photo: Freedom of Information Act 2000

Photo: Campaign for Freedom of Information

When: 1 and 8 November 2017
Where: Free Word Centre, 60 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3GA
Time: 1:30 – 5:00 pm

The Information Commissioner has issued over 10,000 decision notices under the Freedom of Information Act and Environmental Information Regulations – while the Information Rights Tribunal has published over 1,800 decisions. A significant number of appeals to the Upper Tribunal and courts have also been decided. These complex decisions are essential materials for anyone trying to understand what public authorities must do to comply with the legislation.

This course, now in its 12th year, is aimed at experienced FOI practitioners and others with a good working knowledge of the legislation. It highlights the latest developments in the way the exemptions, public interest test and the legislation’s procedural requirements are being interpreted.
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Using the FOI Act training

Photo by Sanwal Deen on Unsplash

When: Wednesday 4 October 2017
Where: Free Word Centre, 60 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3GA
Time: Registration 9:45 am, course 10 am – 5:00 pm

Do you want to learn how to use the Freedom of Information Act? Are you already using the Act, but want to know more about how key provisions are being interpreted?

Making a FOI request is straightforward but making an effective request can be more difficult. Requests that ask for too much information can be refused – and some information may be exempt. But a well thought-out request can have a powerful impact, revealing that a policy isn’t working, an authority isn’t doing its job or generating key information for your research.

This practical course is designed to help campaigners, researchers, journalists and others make the most of the Act and the parallel Environmental Information Regulations. It explains the legislation, shows how to draft clear and effective requests, describes how to challenge unjustified refusals and highlights critical decisions of the Information Commissioner and Tribunal. The course’s interactive sessions will encourage you to work out how best to apply the Act in a variety of situations. The course is aimed at both beginners and those who are already using the Act but want to do so more effectively.
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