Hamfisted Commissioner accuses Scottish Government of taking restricted view of FoI after court ruling

The Scottish Government has been accused of routinely rejecting valid Freedom of Information requests.

Scottish Information Commissioner Kevin Dunion said civil servants took a "restrictive view" of applications "as a matter of course".

Mr Dunion issued new guidance on how the laws should be interpreted after a ruling said people had the right to the information but not the documents.

The Scottish government said it was committed to freedom of information.

Kevin Dunion said: "If it is reasonably clear to the public authority what information you're looking for, they should respond to it in a perfectly normal way.

"The Scottish government has taken a rather restrictive view of it and is now issuing, almost as a matter of course, refusal notices saying requests are invalid if they make reference to documents. "I'm very surprised and disappointed by the line that they have taken, because up until now they have had an excellent record of supporting FoI.

"But that doesn't obscure the fact that in this case we now have ample evidence that as a matter of course civil servants are turning away perfectly valid information requests which are quite inexplicable."

Mr Dunion said the Government's stance was "hamfisted" and "misguided", adding: "I think it can be remedied by simply coming into line with the rest of the public authorities in Scotland and with my guidance, which spells out what should be done.

"It's my job to interpret what the law is and I've issued to the permanent secretary of the civil service in Scotland guidance asking him to change the instructions he has given to his staff so that they accord with my interpretation of the Court of Session decision."

'Transparent government'
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said the administration was "committed to freedom of information, and its underpinning principles of openness and transparent government".

She said: "The publication of the Scottish Information Commissioner's guidance on the recent Court of Session decision is welcome.

"The court ruling says, for example, that the FoI Act provides a right to obtain information, rather than a right to obtain copies of specific documents, and of course we are now considering the implications of the court ruling in the context of the advice from the commissioner."

Government 'rejects valid FoIs' (BBC News, 29 January 2010)

* Commissioner issues guidance for public authorities - "On 27 January 2010, the Commissioner published important new guidance explaining the practical effects for public authorities and applicants of the Opinion of the Court of Session in Glasgow City Council v Scottish Information Commissioner. The Court found that, in the particular circumstances of the case, the requests were invalid.  The  guidance provides practical advice on the interpretation of information requests, alongside the important duty to advise and assist applicants"- view the guidance here: Scottish Information Commissioner's Guidance