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Community News - Access to Information
Public authorities to provide access to information they hold within 20 working days
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Access to information

Scottish Information Commissioner, Letter to Editor, The Citizen, 14 January 2005

On January 1 your readers benefited from an important new right, when new legislation came into force requiring Scotland’s public authorities to provide access to information they hold within 20 working days of receiving a request.

The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 applies to more than 10,000 public authorities across Scotland, including the Scottish Executive, local government, police, education and health services, right through to your local GP. Now if you want to access any information held by any of these authorities, whether it is information about the level of bullying in schools in your catchment area, the number of burglaries committed in your street, or the facts and figures informing the decision to close a local community resource, all you have to do is ask. The only condition is that your request must be made in writing, and include a name and address for correspondence.

Authorities are entitled to withhold certain types of information, but only in very specific circumstances, which are detailed in the Act. For example, information might be withheld if its release would pose a threat to health and safety, or would damage national security. In most cases, authorities are also obliged to consider the public interest before ultimately deciding to withhold information. If it is in the public interest to release the information, then it should be released.

Most information requests should be answered in full. However, if an authority decides to withhold information, it must write to you within 20 working days, explaining its reasons, and informing you of your right to appeal. You can appeal if you believe the authority has either acted incorrectly in withholding the information, or has failed to comply with its obligations in some other way. The appeal should be made to the authority in the first instance. However if the information is still not released, then you can appeal to me. There is no cost involved in making such an appeal and you do not need to make any legal case. I have the power to investigate such appeals and to force the release of information if I find that an authority has failed to act in accordance with the legislation.

I have produced a guide to this powerful new right which your readers are welcome read on my website www.itspublicknowledge.info. They can also request a free printed copy, which will shortly be available, by calling 01334 464610, or e-mailing enquiries@itspublicknowledge.info.

Yours, etc., KEVIN DUNION, Scottish Information Commissioner

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