Freedom of Information: The Scottish Government

If you are a regular reader of this blog, or indeed follow me on Twitter, you will know that for the last four months I have been seeking information from various public authorities in relation to Cadder v HM Advocate by using the Freedom of Information Acts that are in operation in the UK.

One public authority that I have made a request to information was the Scottish Government.  Under section 10(1) of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 a public authority has a maximum of 20 working days in which to comply with the request.  There are some exceptions to this, such as if the public authority seeks clarification from the applicant or where the public authority is the Keeper of the Records of Scotland.  My request to the Scottish Government was made on 4 February 2011.  The 20th working day came and I was advised that due to staff illness the Government’s response would be slightly delayed.  While in terms of the law the Government has no grounds to delay a response due to staff illness it is something that is out with the hands of the Government so I was patient and waited.  Almost 2 weeks after the original deadline the Government were still unable to provide me with a response.  I got the distinct impression from communications I had had with the Government that this illness only began on or close to the 20th working day.  Certainly, staff illness should not delay the response that long as a decision must already have been taken as to what information they held and what could be released and all that should have remained was for the decision to be communicated to me.

On Thursday 17 March 2011 I wrote the Scottish Government requesting that they reviewed their failure to respond within the statutory 20 working day period and advising them that I considered this not only to be a failure to comply, but a refusal of the request.  Under section 21(1) of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 the Scottish Government had a further 20 working days to respond to this request for a review, yet again they failed to respond within the 20 working days.  On the 21st working day I received an E-mail from them advising me that they were as yet unable to provide a substantive response and would revert to me as soon as they could.  They did not provide a reason as to why the response to the review was delayed or why they had still failed to respond to the request made.  By this stage 51 working days had passed since the initial request.

Under section 47(1) of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 if an applicant remains dissatisfied with the way in which a public authority has handled their request after a review has been carried out or where a Scottish public authority to which a requirement for review was made failed to respond the applicant can apply to the Scottish Information Commissioner for a decision.

On Saturday 16 April 2011 I sent a letter, with copies of all communications between the Scottish Government and I, to the Scottish Information Commissioner seeking a decision from the Commissioner under section 47(1) of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

I wouldn’t like to publicly speculate exactly why the Scottish Government has not responded to my request for information made under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, although I do have some ideas as to why they haven’t.  It’s not the first time the  Government has been in contravention of the Act.  It was recently reported that they took 9 months to respond to one request.  A quick check through the decisions made by the Scottish Information Commissioner identifies a number of applications made under section 47(1) of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 which are either wholly or partially due to the Scottish Government’s failure to comply with sections 10(1) and 21(1) of the Act.

I will leave it to you, my readers, to draw your own conclusions as to what all of the above means.  However, I will continue to press the Government for a response to the matter as I will continue to do with all of my requests for information made under one of the Freedom of Information Acts.

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