The Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee of the Scottish Parliament is currently calling for views on the operation of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (“FOISA”) as part of its post-legislative scrutiny of FOISA. I have submitted a response to the Committee, which addresses five issues in respect of FOISA (and also touches, where applicable, on the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 (“the Scottish EIRs”)). You can read my full submission here [pdf], but below is a summary of what I have discussed in my submission to the Committee.
The first thing that I have suggested is a possible change to the code of practice issued by the Scottish Ministers under section 60 of FOISA to deal with concerns raised about the processing of personal data in connection with FOI requests. I have covered this issue in more detail on this blog before. In my response I have suggested that this issue is probably best addressed through the code of practice rather than through a change to the wording of the Act.
I have also suggested that any concerns around a failure to make or keep records would not be an appropriate issue to address in the context of FOISA; however, it might be worthy of its own legislative project in the event that Parliament considered that this was an issue. This arises out of concerns expressed that FOISA has resulted in records not being made or kept so as to avoid the need to disclose them. I argue that it is inappropriate to bring this into FOISA; as FOISA has a different focus. FOISA is about giving a right of access to information that exists at the time it is requested and not about what information should be kept by Scottish public authorities. Furthermore, to introduce potentially detailed and technical rules around the making and keeping of records into FOISA could over-complicate FOISA.
I have also suggested that section 48 of FOISA be repealed; or, at least, amended. There is no equivalent provision within the UK Act and there doesn’t seem to be any issues under that legislative scheme that would suggest an outright ban on the Scottish Information Commissioner being able to look these requests is appropriate. Furthermore, it has a significant effect on requesters appeal rights and the alternatives available are not a proper substitute for an investigation by the Commissioner. In this context I also raised concerns about whether section 48 is compatible with our EU obligations as it also extends to requests made under the Scottish EIRs.
I have also suggested amending section 56 of FOISA so that appeals against decisions no longer go directly to the Court of Session. For quite a long time I have considered that this appeal route is prohibitive to most requesters and also to Scottish public authorities (especially smaller authorities with less in the way of financial resources). I’ve also suggested that this has affected the development of the law and Scotland lacks the same level of judicial authority in terms of what different parts of FOISA mean that exists under the UK Act. I’ve suggested, at the very least, appeals should be made to the new Upper Tribunal for Scotland in the first instance. I contrasted the Scottish appellate structure with that which applies under the UK Act. I have also suggested that the present appellate structure may mean that the law doe snot comply with EU law in respect of the Scottish EIRs.
Finally, I’ve also suggested that FOISA be updated to take account of advances in technology and in particular to allow the Scottish Information Commissioner to serve formal notices by E-mail rather than requiring them to be served by recorded delivery post (as is currently the case).
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