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Freedom Of Information

What is Freedom of Information?
The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FoISA) came into full force on 1 January 2005. FoISA aims to increase openness and accountability in government and across the public sector by ensuring that people have the right to access information held by Scottish public authorities. People will be able to see and question how such bodies function and how decisions are made.

Who does it apply to?
FoISA applies to practically all public bodies in Scotland, including local authorities, the NHS, Colleges and Universities, the police, the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government. FoISA also applies to companies wholly owned by a public authority and, if designated, it may even apply to private companies carrying out a function for a public authority, for example under a contract. A full list of the organisations affected is set out in the Act and further bodies can be added by the Scottish Ministers. FoiSA applies to Queen Margaret University because it falls within the category of higher education institution and is therefore a public authority.

What does Freedom of Information mean for QMU?
The University has had to develop a publication scheme so that the public can see what sort of information it holds. Where information is not proactively made available, through such a scheme, QMU will have to respond to specific requests for information. FoISA allows anyone (individual or organisation), anywhere to ask for information from a Scottish public authority. It does not matter how old the information is or why it was created, if the authority holds the information then it will have to give access to it, provided that an exemption does not apply.

How does FoISA fit with other legislation?
The Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations came into force on 1 January 2005. Every Scottish public authority now has a duty to make available environmental information on request. Although the intention of both pieces of legislation is to allow the public access to information, there are some differences between the two that are highlighted on the Office of the Scottish Information Commissioner's (OSIC) website.

The Data Protection Act 1998 covers personal data held by the University about a living person. It enables the individual to (a) request access to all personal data about themselves that is held by the University, and (b) ensure that the personal data will only be held for specific and valid purposes. Further information on FoISA and the Data Protection Act is available on these webpages.

What happens if QMU does not provide information?
FoISA is enforced by the Scottish Information Commissioner, Rosemary Agnew. The Commissioner has a wide variety of powers under FoISA to ensure compliance, and QMU could be found in contempt of court if it fails to comply with a notice issued by the Commissioner.

The Commissioner is a fully independent public official. Her duties and legal powers ensure that the public get the information from Scottish public authorities to which they are entitled. She has a number of responsibilities which include dealing with complaints, promoting good practice to authorities, informing the public about FoISA and enforcing it.

Complaints concerning requests can only be made to the Information Commissioner once an applicant has exhausted the authority’s review procedure. If an applicant is dissatisfied with the response from the authority, they can take their complaint to the Scottish Information Commissioner. If the Commissioner decides to proceed he will invite comments from the authority and then decide if the complaint is valid. The Commissioner will notify both the applicant and the authority of her decision.

Enforcement
The Commissioner has a duty under FoISA to promote good practice amongst public authorities, and her strategic and operational plans for the next 4 years set out how she plans to do this, including undertaking further research in specific sectors, providing briefing and guidance, and encouraging authorities to examine ways of doing things differently.

The Commissioner's Enforcement Strategy, launched in May 2008, sets out how she intends to take this forward. It covers her general functions to promote good practice; details of the evidence gathering methods she will employ to investigate practice issues; and the actions she may take as a result.

As part of her Enforcement Strategy, the Commissioner is undertaking a programme of Practice Assessments in order to ensure that Scottish public authorities are following good practice in terms of FOISA. Queen Margaret University was the second public authority in Scotland to have an assessment visit, the outcome of which is published on the OSIC website.

 

last modified 20/02/13 Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh EH21 6UU - Tel: +44 (0)131 474 0000
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