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Scotland Considers FOI Reforms; Dunion Urges More

Source: freedominfo.org

Date: 15 December 2011

The Scottish government Dec. 16 proposed amendments “to strengthen and improve” the 10-year-old freedom of information law.

Minister for Parliamentary Business Brian Adam said the proposals will “allow greater flexibility in reducing the lifespan of exemptions with a view to more information being made available earlier. It will also allow more time for the Information Commissioner to bring forward prosecutions for an offence under the Act.”

Adams also announced that a web portal DirectScot, which will provide a single convenient access point online potentially linking together all public services across Scotland through a single portal, will launch early in 2012.

More specifically, the proposals, now subject to more public comment, would:

-          Provide increased flexibility regarding the release of historical records. During a comment period, “the vast majority” of responses supported reducing the waiting period from 30 to 15 years, and the government moved this way except for certain exemptions.

-          Lengthen to 12 months the time frame in which a criminal prosecution can be brought under Section 65 for the destruction of information after it has been requested.

-          Provide greater protections concerning the United Kingdom’s royal family to mirror changes to UK legislation.

Separately, in remarks Dec. 16, the outgoing Scottish Information Commissioner Kevin Dunion called on the Scottish Government to strengthen and extend Scotland’s freedom of information rights. He cited new research revealing that 91 percent of the Scottish public view FOI as an important way to hold public bodies to account for their spending decisions and over 80% want FOI extended to cover other bodies that provide public services, according to a press release from his office.

 His term ends at the end of February. In January 2012, the commissioner plans to lay a Special Report before the Scottish Parliament. The report will set out the Commissioner’s views on the current state of Freedom of Information in Scotland.