It has been reported that the Scottish Government has discontinued its case before the Court of Session in relation to a requirement placed upon it by the Scottish Information Commissioner to release information withheld by it which had been requested by Mr Simon Johnson, the Scottish Political Editor at the Daily Telegraph.
On 17 February 2009 a request for information was sent by Mr Johnson to the Scottish Ministers requesting information regarding the revised local income tax plan and the Ministers refused to disclose the information citing the exemption covering information gathered for the formation of Scottish Administration policy. Mr Johnson appealed to the commissioner following the Scottish Government maintaining the exemption following a review. The Commissioner found that the public interest of maintaining the exemption was outweighed by the public interest in releasing the information and ordered its disclosure. The Scottish Government appealed to the Court of Session.
The contents of the documents the Scottish Government were seeking to keep secret were leaked which meant that the appeal was no longer required. The appeal has cost the taxpayer £100,000 which is not an insignificant amount of money, especially in a time of Government cuts and could have probably been better spent on other things, but instead the Scottish Government decided to spend it on keeping information secret from the public.
The Commissioner has in the past commented on the performance of the Scottish Ministers in complying with the requirements of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA) and frequently when looking through the recent decisions of the Commissioner there can be decisions found where the Scottish Ministers are party. Personal experience coupled with this leads me to believe that the Scottish Government actively seek to keep information from the public and prefer to operate the business of government in private.
This looks to have been a complete waste of taxpayer’s money to prevent potentially embarrassing details from being released to the public. The Commissioner has been very clear that exemptions are not to be used to prevent potentially embarrassing information from being disclosed.
It’s time that the Scottish Government is more open and more transparent rather than only releasing the information that benefits them and shows them in a good light. The people of Scotland have a right to know what is going on inside Government.
The Scottish Information Commissioner is still considering an application regarding information withheld by the Scottish Government in relation to the post-Cadder debacle and readers of Avizandum Times will be the first to know what the Commissioners decision is when that is released.