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Guidance for FoI requests follows Glasgow/Dundee decision

28 January 2010

The Scottish Information Commissioner has published new guidance explaining the practical effects for public authorities and applicants of the Court of Session's decision last year in Glasgow City Council v Scottish Information Commissioner.

The decision, on a request attempting to force disclosure of information normally provided by way of property enquiry certificates, found that, in the particular circumstances of the case, the requests were invalid. The new guidance provides practical advice on the interpretation of information requests, alongside the important duty to advise and assist applicants.

In relation to requests for documents, or copies of documents, the guidance expands on these points:

  • The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA) provides a right of access to information and not a right of access to copies of specific documents.
  • Authorities should not automatically refuse requests for copies of documents, as long as it is reasonably clear from the request that it is the information recorded in the document that the applicant wants.
  • Requesting a document (e.g. a report, a minute or a contract) is a commonplace way to describe information. Where it is reasonably clear that a request is for the information contained in a document, the authority should respond to the request as one properly made under FOISA.
  • If a request is for a document, but it is not reasonably clear what information is being requested, the authority should contact the applicant to seek clarification.

As regards requests on behalf of other people, the Commissioner explains these points:

  • There is nothing to stop someone making a request on behalf of another person.
  • An information request must contain the name of the applicant. Requests on behalf of someone else must name the third party (the "true applicant").
  • Authorities must advise and assist applicants to make requests. If a request is made on behalf of an unnamed person, the authority should provide reasonable advice and assistance to the applicant to explain what needs to be done in order for a valid request to be made.

He adds that if an authority rejects a request as being invalid, it is important that the authority advises the applicant of the right to request a review and, if still dissatisfied, to make an application to the Commissioner for a decision.

Authorities are urged review their procedures and, if they have determined any requests invalid on either ground following the Court of Session opinion, to review those requests and satisfy themselves that they have complied with their responsibilities under the legislation.

Click here to access the guidance.

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