Challenge to Scottish FOI Commissioner Mooted

23 July 2010

A compromise has averted a challenge to the powers of the Scottish Information Commissioner brought by government ministers to prevent his access to certain files, according to Scottish newspaper accounts and  information from the commissioner’s office provided to Freedominfo.org.

The ministers “backed down,” reported Tom Gordon in The Herald and Cara Sulieman for Edinburgh’s Deadline Press & Picture Agency.

Commissioner Kevin Dunion had requested certain files, on an undisclosed subject, and government ministers in March asked a court to rule on whether he should have unfettered access to state papers.

In July, however, a settlement was reached, with the commissioner withdrawing his “information notice” and the government pulling back its challenge.

As described by Paul Mutch, the commissioner’s spokesman: “The Ministers amended their grounds of appeal quite substantially, no longer arguing that the request was invalid, or that the Commissioner had no right to see the documents in question.  Other grounds of appeal remained, including the breadth of the Commissioner’s powers under s50.  However, following discussions between both parties, a compromise was reached.” The court dismissed the case July 13.

The ministers agreed to supply the commissioner “with relevant information,” according to Mutch, and the investigation is continuing.

A government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Information Commissioner agreed to withdraw the information notice he had served on Scottish ministers in respect of an application he is currently considering. Ministers will not now proceed with their challenge to the notice. The Scottish Government is committed to FoI and its underpinning principles of openness and transparent government.”

Dunion’s office considers appeals when public bodies withhold information, sometimes looking at the withheld information.

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