Scottish Government accused of bending the law on Freedom of Information
The freedom of information watchdog has warned the Scottish Government that they have repeatedly breached the law in a new report released today.
After a one year investigation into the matter, Scottish Information Commissioner Daren Fitzhenry called the handling of FOI requests 'inherently wrong'. They identified a number of questionable practices.
These included far slower response times to requests from journalists than non-journalists; a different procedure for handling requests from people who might be 'confrontational' - including SNP spin doctors and ministerial clearance; and highly inadequate record keeping of ministerial meetings in particular.
A champion of increased transparency, Fitzhenry called for a removal of the First Minister's 'veto' over highly sensitive files being accessed through FoI requests. This inquiry will strengthen those calls, and the commissioner has demanded that the Scottish Government produce an action plan showing how they intend to fix their behaviour.
Commenting on the report, Scottish Labour’s parliamentary business manager, Rhoda Grant, said:
“This is an absolutely damning report that shines a light on the SNP’s government’s attempts to bury bad news.
“The report reveals that Freedom of Information requests from journalists and opposition MSPs’ staff were handled differently.
“Not only was the clearance process different, but there is clear evidence that information was suppressed in answer to these journalists’ requests.
“What is it exactly that Nicola Sturgeon and her ministers are trying to hide from the people of Scotland?
“The First Minister must address the findings of this report and apologise for bending the law to suit her narrow political interests.
“The last Labour government introduced Freedom of Information laws and the party will continue to champion the rights of citizens to hold this SNP government to account.”
Speaking to The Ferret, the Scottish government denied they were acting outside the law. A spokesperson said:
“The Scottish Government operates freedom of information practices in line with FoI law."
“Under the FoI law both officials and ministers are able to be informed of where an FoI request has come from. This is not specific to journalists.”