Members of a new network dedicated to open government have written to the Scottish Parliament to call for an urgent review of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.
Members of the Open Government Scotland Network – which comprises over 200 charities, academics, trade unionists and campaigners from across Scotland – developed the letter following accusations by journalists that the Act is being misused by the Scottish Government and other public institutions.
Ruchir Shah, Policy Manager for the Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) was on of those who first initiated the letter and feels that a properly functioning freedom of information law is a vital mechanism for assuring Scotland’s people of transparency in democratic decision-making:
“Signatories of the letter represent interests from across Scottish society and our collective concerns have led us to believe the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 should be examined by the Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee.
“It is also our view that effective Freedom of Information (FOI) is merely the tip of the iceberg to ensure transparency and trust in Scotland’s public institutions. In due course, this may merit a parliamentary inquiry into the transparency of Scotland’s institutions, building on an initial examination of FOI by the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee.”
Matthew Rice, Scotland Director of Open Rights Group, was another one of the first to become involved:
“The Scottish Government’s record on freedom of information has fallen short of the standard it has set itself. The Scottish Parliament recognised this with a motion criticising the government’s record in June, which was voted for by MSPs from all parties. Whether the failure is a cultural problem or a legal one, post-legislative scrutiny is vital to begin to work towards the answer.
“Freedom of information is a cornerstone of democracy. Journalists, campaigners, and members of the public have used it to hold their public institutions to account for years with some of the most significant exposés in Britain, such as the MPs expenses scandal, coming from the simple idea of being able to ask a question of public institutions and get a clear answer. Now, the system is in need of a review to make sure it is fit for such a fundamental purpose.”
The letter – which was developed using publicly available open source technology to ensure transparency – has been sent to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee who have requested advice on which legislation they should review in the coming parliamentary session.
The full text of the letter is available at https://opengovpioneers.miraheze.org/wiki/Letter-SP-PAPLSC