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Commissioner questions future of freedom of information law

28 April 2017

Scotland's freedom of information law is due a "radical rethink", Information Commissioner Rosemary Agnew said today, in a special report published just as she leaves office.

Ms Agnew, who is about to become the next Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, said that reflecting on her experience, "I increasingly find myself questioning whether, by itself, the current FOI regime will achieve true transparency, and, indeed, whether the approach is sustainable in the long run."

While the enforceable right to request information is essential, and a major strength of the Scottish FOI regime, she further questions whether the duty to publish should now be given equal emphasis in law.

"As it stands there is a clear imbalance", Ms Agnew stated. "The current law places the emphasis on the right to ask, with the effect that it virtually demands that authorities focus their resources on responding to requests, the volume of which is increasing year on year. The publication duty, so essential to transparency, is falling behind. This is in an environment where society and technology continue to change rapidly."

Monitoring of authorities' publication schemes, and polling of public awareness, by her office, both the subject of further reports published today, highlight the importance of readily-accessible information to the public.

But, Ms Agnew adds, "True transparency will only be achieved when the public can access information at the point it is required, enabling active citizen engagement in decisions about the delivery and funding of public services. FOI must keep pace if it is to continue to be effective. It is this that leads me to ask whether the time has come for a radical rethink of FOI."

Her special report aims to promote discussion about these issues. Click here to access it.


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