Thursday, August 30, 2012

Revealed: Government, police & local councils all among public bodies who flouted anti-secrecy laws | THE UNHIVED MIND

Revealed: Government, police & local councils all among public bodies who flouted anti-secrecy laws

by Chris Musso,
January 9th 2012

The Scottish Government was the worst offender, wrongly refusing to disclose information 78 times over the last seven years

THE public bodies who fought tooth-and-nail to keep secrets from you are today exposed by the Record.

The Government, police forces, councils and taxpayer-funded quangos all flouted anti-secrecy laws by knocking back legitimate Freedom of Information requests.

They were forced to back down by Kevin Dunion, Scotland’s first Information Commissioner, who ruled in favour of the public 359 times since the new rules came into force in January 2005.

The worst offenders were the Scottish Government, who wrongly refused to disclose information 78 times over the last seven years.

However, they also received the highest number of requests of any public body.

Second on the league of shame were Edinburgh City Council, with 22 decisions against them.

Third were Glasgow City Council with 17 decisions fully in favour of applicants, and fourth were Scottish Water with 15.

Among legitimate requests knocked back were details on the numbers of sex offenders in various areas – with Strathclyde Police, Grampian Police and Northern Constabulary all falling foul.

Surgical mortality rates were also wrongly withheld by the NHS, as were details of public payments to firms of private consultants.

Dunion and his office made 1336 decisions to December 14, 2011.

As well as the 359 fully in favour of the person appealing a refusal, 450 were partly in their favour.

A person who gets knocked back for an FoI request must first appeal to the public body before going to the Information Commissioner.

It is time-consuming, meaning many members of the public give up, even if they have a good case.

But public bodies often fight to the bitter end, despite decisions being overturned by the Information Commissioner.

Public bodies’ disregard for the laws is still widespread seven years on – and even appears to be growing.

Last year saw the highest total for successful appeals by the public – on 85 occasions.

Dunion, who grew up in Fife
and Clackmannanshire and was the rector of St Andrews University until 2011, steps down next month from the post of Information Commissioner he has held since 2003.

Tomorrow, he will present a special report to the Scottish Parliament on his time in the job, and will urge the Government to “safeguard and strengthen” openness from public bodies.

Yesterday, he told the Record he was confident Scotland had “made a success” of freedom of information since 2005.

He added said: “Public awareness of Freedom of Information is at an all-time high. Public authorities are responding to requests and information is being disclosed which would otherwise have remained secret.

“We know much more about contracts and expenses, deaths in hospitals and local crime rates because of FoI.

“Of course, there are disputes and failings which is why the free right of appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner is so important.”

He said most appeals were from members of the public, adding: “In the majority of my decisions I have found, at least in part, that the appeal was justified.”

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