Freedom of Information laws have been in force in Scotland since 1st January 2005 giving the public a right of access to all types of recorded information such as emails, meeting notes, reports and research held by public authorities. But are we taking full advantage of our rights?
According to the Scottish Information Commissioner's 2010 report, since the introduction of the legislation, a staggering 10,000 requests for information have been made from members of the public, private organisations, trade unions, campaigners, and the media.
In Scotland, the public authorities whom we have access to information from include governmental departments, the police force, hospitals and educational institutions. Applications in respect of information held by such bodies must be made to the Scottish Information Commissioner who will carry out an investigation and make a decision as to whether the authorities are justified in withholding the information.
The latest report from the Commissioner shows an increase in applications made since 2009, with a 38% increase on applications made since 2007. These figures demonstrate a rising awareness amongst the public of their right to access information. A huge 408 out of a total 1,733 applications were made by individual members of the public who were seeking information on issues relevant to their day-to-day lives. However, more applications are being made by commercial bodies and the media, for whom the access to information is vital for market research.
It is encouraging to see the public take advantage of their rights under the Freedom of Information laws, but worryingly there has also been a rise in decisions found fully in favour of the person/organisation requesting the information. In 2010, the Commissioner found that in two thirds of cases, the public authority had failed in some way to provide access to information.
So what can we expect to see in the coming year? If the figures in the Commissioner's report are anything to go by, we should hope to see more applications for information being made, and this in turn should encourage greater accountability, transparency and disclosure by the public bodies of Scotland.