Scottish Government Backs Off FOI Exemption for Royals

30 November 2012

The Scottish Government has retreated from its proposal to exempt the royal family from the Scottish Freedom of Information law.

The proposal, similar to a protection approved for the United Kingdom FOI law, was criticized recently by a Scottish legislative committee considering a government-proposed bill to amend the law in a variety of ways. Critics also have said the proposal does not go far enough, particularly by not covering public-private bodies. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said in a letter, “Having carefully considered the report of the Finance Committee, we have concluded that the principle of public interest as regards Royal communications should be maintained.”

“We remain firmly of the view that communications between Her Majesty and other members of the Royal Family with Scottish Ministers – and other public authorities – should be handled sensitively and confidentially, with strict and appropriate application of the exemptions contained within the current Freedom of Information Act,” she said Nov. 27, according to a report in The Scotsman.

Her letter also touches on other topics, indicating that she will make further comments on the issue of extending the act’s reach.

Process to Continue

The bill is due to be considered by the committee at Stage 2 on Dec. 5. In advance of this, the Deputy First Minister lodged amendments to the Bill, which included the removal of the provision which introduced the absolute exemption and concerning the scope of FOI.

The final stage, the stage 3 debate, is likely to take place mid-January.

Research materials: The committee’s pages on the bill.The Deputy First Minister’s proposed amendments. The Scottish Government’s news release re. the proposed amendments:  Elaine Murray MSP’s proposed amendments.

British Law on Royals Amended in 2010

An amendment to the British FOI law to provide an absolute exemption for information relating to communications with Her Majesty, the heir and second in line to the throne was passed in 2010 and came into force in 2011. See a posting on the UK Freedom of Information Blog of the Campaign for Freedom of Information.

The amendment is not retrospective so requests made before Jan.19, 2011, must be dealt with under the old regime. The Guardian’s requests for Prince Charles’ letters, which were made back in 2005, were recently ordered to be disclosed on public interest grounds by the Upper Tribunal. The government vetoed the Tribunal’s decision. See the UK FOI Blog post.(Also see previous FreedomInfo.org report.)

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