Scottish Commissioner Sends Letter on Timing of Releases

30 March 2016

Scotland’s information commissioner has issued a clarification of policy on delaying the release of decisions during the pre-election period.

A candidate for the Holyrood elections was told by the commissioner’s office would not issue certain decisions which may “put forward a critical view of ministers” until after the Scottish Parliament election on May 5, as described in an STV report.

Commissioner Rosemary Agnew March 30 said this was the result of “a breakdown in internal communications” and she wrote to Parliament to explain her policy on releases during “purdah,” the time between an announced election and the final election results. Her office is not legally covered by the rules that prevent government from announcing new initiatives that might advantage certain candidates.

James McEnaney, a candidate for the RISE party in the Glasgow region, had submitted a freedom of information request relating to plans for National Standardised Testing in schools.

In apologizing to McEnaney, the commissioner said the e-mail was both misleading and premature.

“I am mindful of the need to be both impartial and to be seen to be impartial at all times, so we are alert to the need for care during the election period to avoid any suggestions of bias in the issuing of decisions, particularly involving Ministers,” Agnew said.

Her statement explains that the presumption is always that decisions are issued at the earliest possible opportunity. Delay in issuing decisions is rare and carefully considered. The statement includes the particular criteria applied in the period running up to an election.

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