Freedom of Information
Plans to strengthen and improve Freedom of Information legislation (FOI) have been published today for consultation by the Scottish Government.
The proposed legislation, outlined today by Minister for Parliamentary Business Brian Adam, will put right two deficiencies in the current FOI laws that have been identified relating to part 5 (Historical Records) and Section 65 (Offence of altering etc. records with intent to prevent disclosure).
The draft Bill will also make amendments in respect of the handling requests for information relating to communications with Her Majesty and other members of the Royal Family to mirror changes to UK legislation.
Along with legislative changes, Mr Adam also emphasised the Scottish Government's commitment to work towards non legislative approaches to developing a culture of openness in public bodies in Scotland.
Mr Adam said:
"Freedom of Information has brought a welcome culture of openness and transparency to the work of Government and other public bodies since its introduction in Scotland in 2005.
"As a Government we are committed to Freedom of Information and strive to publish as much information as possible proactively. The vast majority of the FOI requests we receive lead to more information being made available. We can be proud of the fact that we have set an example for other countries in this respect.
"However we can continue to improve on our good record and the proposed Amendments Bill seeks to do just that.
"It 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.
"As the Act approaches its tenth anniversary we must do more to promote the benefits of a proactive approach to openness. Moreover, at a time of rapid technological advance, instant communication and global business it is imperative that governments use every means available to engage and inform their people. Openness and transparency are a key element in successfully achieving the objectives of the government and the wider public sector."
"I am pleased to announce that 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. DirectScot is intended to be a one-stop-shop for public services and information, bringing together central government and local government and many other public bodies."
Part 5 (Historical Records) relates to the 30 year lifespan of a 'historical record'; sets out the exemptions which apply for 30 years and identifies the lifespan of certain other exemptions; and gives Scottish Ministers order making powers to amend these timescales. At present the Act does not allow separate consideration of individual exemptions. The draft Bill therefore seeks to provide increased flexibility.
Section 65 (Offence of altering etc. records with intent to prevent disclosure). The destruction of information after it has been requested is a criminal offence. The standard timescale for commencing proceedings of a summary conviction is six months as set in section 136 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995.
Due to the process that FOISA follows, it is potentially 10 months from commission before any offence could be discovered by the Commissioner at appeal stage. However a prosecution must be brought within six months under the Criminal Procedures (Scotland) Act 1995. The amendment proposes to strengthen the Act by increasing the time frame in which a prosecution can be brought to 12 months.