Freedom of Information

The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 came into full force on 1 January 2005. It was originally passed by the Scottish Parliament on 24 April 2002 and was given Royal Assent on 28 May 2002.

The Act introduces a general statutory right of access to all types of 'recorded' information of any age held by a Scottish public authority.

It brought with it important new right to access which are of great benefit to the members of the public.

This Act allows the public access to information held by public authorities in Scotland and also encourages a more proactive approach to publication of information by these authorities through Publication Scheme.

The principal aim of the Act is to increase openness and accountability through all public sector bodies. This is achieved through the Act allowing the public a right of access to information held by these bodies. The public will be allowed a look at how these bodies function and operate.

The Act applies to almost all Scottish Public Authorities including the Scottish Government and its agencies, the Scottish Parliament, Local Authorities, NHS Scotland, Universities and further education colleges and the police. The Act also applies to companies wholly owned by a public authority and, if designated, it may even apply to private companies carrying out a function for a public authority, under a contract for example.

A full list of these bodies can be found at Schedule 1 of the Act.

Scottish Ministers may alter or add to this list.

Under the provisions of the Act Public Authorities must allow access to:

  • the provision, cost and standard of the services it provides
  • any factual information requested which it hold
  • details of decisions made with the reasons for these

The Act also requires all public authorities to adopt and maintain a 'Publication Scheme'. Such a scheme describes the classes of information which the authority publishes or intends to publish, how it does so and any fee associated with these publications. These publications are submitted to the Scottish Information Commissioner.

There are exemptions where the information is not allowed to be given by the public authorities. There are absolute and non-absolute exemptions. If an absolute exemption applies, then the authority will not have to release the information. Absolute exemptions cover classes of information such as that relating to national security and also information which can be found elsewhere, such as in the authority's publication scheme.

If information is covered by a non-absolute exemption then the authority must consider whether it is in the public's best interest to release it. If it is, then the information may be released.

Details of the exemptions are contained in Part 2 of the Act.

Thousands of requests have been made for information to the various authorities since this Act was introduced, the majority being from members of the public.

The Act has obviously created a great deal more work for these public bodies, however, they have adapted well to this huge change in their structure.

They have also achieved high levels of compliance with the Act. Thompsons hope that this success is continued and also further improved upon over time.

Thompsons Solicitors make regular use of this Act to assist our clients.

For example, if you are injured at work and are employed by a local authority then we will request details of similar accidents as well as information in relation to the cause of your accident.

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