Presentation on theme: "Freedom of Information Briefing 2006. Todays topics..... Introduction Benefits of FOI Countries with FOI Legislation Legislative context The RGU approach."— Presentation transcript:
Todays topics..... Introduction Benefits of FOI Countries with FOI Legislation Legislative context The RGU approach to FOI The Act The Publication Scheme Rights of Access Dealing with requests Exemptions Fees Environmental Information Data Protection Act Scottish Information Commissioner Requirement for Review FOI Officers responsibilities Public confidence Any Questions
Benefits Openness is central to a modern, mature and democratic society. - Scottish Executive, An Open Scotland, 1999 Accountability – Transparency –Trust Good practice – Protects rights Good institutional governance
Legislative context Human Rights Act 1998 Data Protection Act 1998 Freedom of Information Act 2000 Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004
Universitys approach to FOI Records Services Source of expertise - policy and guidance Record keeping and Administration Awareness raising - training Freedom of Information Officer network At least one FIO per School & Department Internal co-ordination Local liaison point
Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 3 strands: Individual requests From 1 January 2005 Publication scheme http://www.rgu.ac.uk/foi/ Must publish in line with obligations Must keep up to date Records management Offers business benefits too
Freedom of information in context The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 Provides a right to access information held in Scottish public authorities. This should, –Lead to increased accountability –Help to breakdown culture of secrecy –Ensure that public bodies look outward to the communities they serve.
Outline of the FoI(S)A An authority subject to the FOISA must –Publish information under a Publication scheme which has been approved by the Scottish Information Commissioner –Respond to specific requests for recorded information held by it and supply the information requested unless an exemption applies –Ensure that the records it holds comply with Records management standards.
Publication Schemes Schemes must specify –The Classes of information which the authority publishes or intends to publish –The manner in which the information is to be published and –Whether the published information is available free of charge or for payment
Rights of Access Anyone, anywhere can make a request under the FoI(S)A Any information held in a recorded form is covered by the FoI(S)A Access requests can be made by children who have sufficient understanding. A child over 12 years is presumed to have such understanding.
Request for access Must be in writing or other permanent form Must state the name of the applicant and an address for correspondence Must describe the information which the applicant seeks May express a preference for the information to be provided in a specific way e.g. in Braille
Individual requests What counts as a request? –A query seeking any information of any age about anything –From anyone, of any age, anywhere in the world, for any reason –Does not have to mention freedom of information Cannot ask why they want to know Only applies to recorded information
Section 60 Code of Practice The Code covers : –The provision of advice and assistance to those making requests for information –The transfer of requests between authorities –Consultation with interested parties –Terms of contracts entered into by authorities –How authorities should handle reviews and complaints –Monitoring requests http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications
Freedom of Information Officers Responsibilities Estimate fees to be charged as appropriate. Liaise with Record Services Co-ordinate information collection Offer general guidance/advice to colleagues Offer guidance and advice on exemptions
Implications for staff Any request for information must be answered in 20 working days (Monday to Friday) excluding bank holidays. We cannot ask why they want to know If it is in your remit and you have no concerns, answer it –Otherwise contact your manager or the Records Manager for further guidance. Make sure someone can find information in your absence All documents & e-mails may be open to scrutiny.
Dealing with requests The University has an obligation to provide advice and assistance to all applicants. The applicant may have to supply further information to enable the required information to be found. The University does not have to comply with repeated or vexatious requests these may be Exempted.
Exemptions There are two kinds of exemptions: Absolute exemptions and Non-absolute exemptions
Absolute Exemptions Where an absolute exemption applies the University does not have to consider the public interest in the disclosure of the information before refusing to supply it.
Absolute Exemptions : 1 Information which the applicant can reasonably obtain because it is available to members of the public by another route: –Available under the Universitys publication scheme –Made available under an enactment or –Made available by the Keeper of the Records of Scotland
Absolute Exemptions : 2 Information which is subject to an obligation of confidence that is –The information obtained by the University from another person (which may include another public authority) and –The person who made the disclosure could take court action for an order to stop the University disclosing the information
Absolute Exemptions : 3 Information which relates to a living individual and the application for access to the information is made by that individual In those circumstances the individual will be entitled to access the information using his or her rights under the Data Protection Act 1998
Non- absolute exemptions : 1 The information will only be exempt if its disclosure will result in prejudice to the public interest and, in any event, the University must acknowledge that it holds the information and give reasons for the refusal to supply it.
Non-absolute exemptions : 2 Information derived from a research programme in respect of which –Premature disclosure would substantially prejudice the programme or the interests of the participants –there is an intention to publish within the next 12 weeks and it is reasonable not to give access pending publication
Non-absolute exemptions : 3 Information, the disclosure of which would or would be likely to prejudice substantially –collective responsibility of Scottish Ministers – inhibit the provision of advice or exchange of views or –Otherwise prejudice substantially the effective conduct of public affairs
Non-absolute exemptions : 4 Information which constitutes a trade secret. Information which, if disclosed, would prejudice substantially the commercial interests of any person Information which, if disclosed, would prejudice substantially the economic or financial interests of the whole or part of the UK
Non-absolute exemptions : 5 A deceased persons health record Information which relates to a living individual where the request is made by a person other than that individual if –The information would not be disclosed to the individual (him or her self) or –The individual has lodged an objection which has been accepted by the authority
Non-absolute exemptions : 6 Environmental information which is available under other legislation – Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 Information the disclosure of which would endanger the physical or mental health or safety of an individual
Non-absolute exemptions : 7 Information the disclosure of which would prejudice substantially the exercise of audit functions of a Scottish authority or the examination of the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which the authorities use their resources
Non-absolute exemptions : 8 Communications with the Queen
Fees The University does not have to charge a fee but may do so up to a maximum of £600 If a fee is to be charged the University must tell the applicant of the proposed fee by sending a Fees Notice after it receives the request Prescribed fees regulations exist
Environmental Information Environmental information is very widely defined and the current definition covers: –The state of any water or air, flora, fauna, soil land or other natural site and –Any activities or measures which either adversely affect or which are designed to protect any of the above
Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations The University must deal with requests within 20 days or within 40 if additional time is required A fee can be charged but should be reasonable and not exceed the cost of providing the information Exceptions to disclosure less than exemptions under FoI(S)A Regulations came into effect from 1 st January 2005
Data Protection Act and FoI(S)A Where an individual asks for access to personal data about him or herself the request does not come under the FoI(S)A. It is covered by an exemption from the FoI(S)A. If the authority is sure of the identity of the applicant it should be treated as an application for Subject access under the Data Protection Act 1998.
Data Protection Act and FoI(S)A – Third party access requests Information will be exempt under FoI(S)A if –The disclosure would involve a breach of the Data protection principles –The information would not be provided to the data subject himself because of the application of a subject access exemption or –Where the information would fall under the DPA, the individual has exercised his right to object to processing and the objection has been accepted by the data controller.
The Scottish Information Commissioner The Commissioner must –Promote good practice by Scottish public authorities in following the FoI(S)A and the codes of practice –Consider what information it is desirable to have made available to the public about the FoI(S)A, its operation and good practice in relation to it and ensure that such information is made available. Kevin Dunion Scottish Information Commissioner
Requirement for review An applicant who is not satisfied with a response from the University to an access request may, within 40 days, require the University to review its decision The University must do so, usually within 20 working days If the request was vexatious or repeated the University need not review it but must respond to the request for review.
Decision of Commissioner If the complaint is frivolous or vexatious the Commissioner may reject it The Commissioner must contact the University and invite its comments on any complaint which he handles The Commissioner may seek to resolve the complaint If the complaint is not withdrawn or settled he must issue a decision notice stating whether the University has complied with the FoI(S)A
Failure to comply If the University fails to comply with an information notice, decision notice or enforcement notice the Commissioner may bring the authority before the Court of Session which may deal with the failure as a contempt of court.
Popular areas for requests Commercial information HR policies and procedures Student policies and procedures Core decision- making processes Topical issues Funding sources and expenditure Enthusiasts Campaigning groups Student issues Community issues
Recent RGU Enquiries: Information sought about legal courses and the satisfaction rating. Details of investments of RGU Value of RGU's total investment assets. Number and value of shares that the University holds directly in a number of companies as of 31 March 2006 (Action group) Statistical information sought about Law Courses (Researcher) Statistical information from HR re the historical and changing nature of womens participation as both employees and students at RGU. (Researcher) Appeals procedure information requested. (Student) ICT Contracts (Commercial organisation) Academic misconduct by researchers (Press THES) University Courses (MSP) Students' Academic misconduct (Press EE) Pass lists for two RGU Courses (Student) RGU IT Strategy (MSc Student at other University Academic quality information
November 2006 - the Act is working but has the culture changed? The Scottish Information Commissioners fourth survey of public awareness published in November 2006 shows that the Scottish public agree that more information is available as a result of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002. The survey also showed a sharp fall in those who believe that public authorities will find ways around the law. The findings suggest that public awareness of the freedom of information rights remains high (nearly three quarters of all respondents) following significant increases in awareness over the previous two years.
Public Confidence, but..... The Commissioner, Kevin Dunion, said: The Scottish public recognise that the freedom of information act is a powerful tool, and the indications are that they are seeing the benefits of it. People are confident that more information will come into the public domain as a result and fewer believe authorities can get round the Act. However people still remain to be convinced that Scottish public authorities are changing culture to become more open and accountable.
Positive Feedback The survey revealed that members of the public view the law positively.For those who reported having made requests since the law came into force in 2005, 76% had received some or all of the information they had requested. 68% of respondents to the survey agreed that, as a result of FOISA, more public authority information is available now than before. The proportion of respondents who agreed that public authorities would find ways around the law and avoid providing information has decreased since the last survey from 66% to 57%. However, the research also showed that people are less sure than in previous surveys that public authorities are becoming more open and accountable as a result of the Act. 60% of respondents agreed that they are, compared with 67% in the previous survey.
Further Information RGUs FoI Homepage www.rgu.ac.uk/foi Scottish Information Commissioners Office www.itspublicknowledge.info Universities Scotland Guidance/Advice on specific FoI topics www.foi-he.org/index.htm