The new Scottish Information Commissioner has launched an investigation into allegations that the Scottish Government blocked or delayed freedom of information requests.
Daren Fitzhenry’s intervention follows a letter from 23 journalists backed by The Ferret in May accusing the government of frustrating freedom of information (FoI) law. The letter prompted two debates in the Scottish Parliament.
The new move is under the commissioner’s enforcement regime and could lead to further action against the government.
Fitzhenry, who started work on 16 October, met with the parliamentary business minister, Joe FitzPatrick, on 25 October. In a letter to the minister released today, Fitzhenry says that he is now scoping an intervention into “issues of culture and practice” raised by journalists and MSPs.
These include “allegations of deliberate delaying tactics and requests being blocked or refused for tenuous reasons”.
Fitzhenry stressed, though, he will not be looking into allegations that government officials have failed to take minutes or record information about important meetings.
“My functions and powers do not extend to a consideration or determination of what information ministers ought to record about meetings with outside interests,” he says. “That aspect of the parliamentary debate cannot therefore form part of my intervention.”
Fitzhenry’s new move is in addition to an ongoing intervention against the Scottish Government begun in January 2017 by his predecessor, Rosemary Agnew. This was aimed at tackling the government’s repeated failure to respond to FoI requests within the statutory timetable of 20 working days.
Fitzhenry says that the government’s compliance with deadlines “has improved considerably over the past five months”. But he now thinks it’s necessary to launch a second intervention to examine other criticisms from journalists and MSPs.
Two parliamentary committees are also considering how to respond to a motion agreed by MSPs on 21 June calling for an “independent inquiry” into how the government deals with FoI requests and post-legislative scrutiny of FoI law.
The Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee has FoI law on a shortlist of laws it is considering examining. The Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee has been in correspondence with the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body and the minister FitzPatrick.
Crossposted from: https://theferret.scot/probe-scottish-government-freedom-of-information/