Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Tavish Scott today said that a new report from the Scottish Information Commissioner into Scottish Government freedom of information handling is a stinging rebuke and the culmination of a decade of bad practice.
- warns that journalists, together with MSPs and political researchers, "are expressly made subject to a different process for clearance than other requester groups", leading to additional clearance procedures and delays.
- concludes that this two-track approach is "contrary to the spirit of FOI legislation" which established requests should be handled in a way that is "applicant, and purpose, blind".
- criticises "unjustifiable, significant delays and disregard for the statutory timescales".
- criticised a lack of clarity across the authority about the role of special advisers in request handling. In one example, a case handler recommended disclosure, before an unrecorded meeting with a special advisor saw this reversed, despite internal advice from officials to the contrary.
- found significant gaps in the information recorded in case files, with some containing "no documentation whatsoever".
Mr Scott said:
"The SNP have politicised information which people have a right to receive. They have been found out and now rebuked. Nothing less than an apology for their behaviour will be acceptable.
“The law has been routinely broken and this report is the culmination of a decade of bad practice. People will wonder why no SNP minister has taken any responsibility.
"Ministers have overseen the operation of a two-track information system with journalists and campaigners consigned to the slow lane. This is absolutely not in the spirit of the world-leading freedom of information legislation introduced by Jim Wallace and the Liberal Democrats in the first Scottish Parliament.
"What ministers would 'prefer' isn't relevant when it comes to freedom of information. It is a matter of the law and the public’s right to information which is clearly defined in legislation.
"The Information Commissioner rightly calls for a new plan of action to be delivered by September. Journalists, the public and campaigners will be waiting eagerly to see how the SNP Government will mend its ways."