Scottish Agencies Consult Private Counsel for FOI

25 April 2013

Scottish agencies have spent more than £400,000 ($520,000) for advice from private attorneys on how to respond to freedom of information requests, according to the New Scotsman April 21.

More than 60 Scottish authorities sought counsel on how to apply the FOI exemptions and on reviews and appeals to the Scottish Information Commissioner, the newspaper’s Craig Barclay reported.

The information commissioner’s office is available to give such advice for free, the article said.

Instead, private legal advice was solicited on at least 275 requests for information, the article said. “Analysis shows information is often withheld after solicitors have been instructed,” according to the story.

“Of 242 cases where the authorities could provide the outcome of the FoI request, information was completely or partially withheld in almost three-quarters after advice from solicitors.”

The article provides a breakdown of which agencies had the largest such legal bills.

Carole Ewart, co-convener of the Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland (CFoIS) was quoted as saying: “Ten years after the FoI legislation was passed in Scotland, after much independent guidance and advice, and after many decisions issued by the Scottish Information Commissioner, we expected that authorities would only need to involve external lawyers in exceptional cases.

“The CFoIS is worried by the apparent underlying trend to access external advice if a public authority wants to withhold information. Use of external firms and technical appeals to frustrate the aims of the legislation also suggest that best value is not being applied in these public authorities.”

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