The strength of the Freedom of Information process has been highlighted by Kevin Dunion, Scotland’s first FOI Commissioner, who has stepped down after almost a decade in the appointment in St Andrews.
In the final issue of his regular newsletter as Scottish Information Commissioner, he reflected on his time in office - he was based at Kinburn Castle - describing it as “richly rewarding,”...”coming to a decision on so many issues which affect public life in Scotland.“
Indeed, he highlighted his very last decision of Rab Wilson and Ayrshire and Arran NHS Board, concerning the disclosure of reports on critical incident reviews and significant adverse events, as being a case in point.
Mr Dunion said: ”At its core, the decision demonstrates that without FOI this information may never have seen the light of day again, far less being disclosed. Only the persistence of the applicant, a strong appellate process determined to get at the facts, and ultimately the preparedness of the authority to accept that it had got things wrong in this instance, has led to important information being put into the public domain.”
In the decision - it received extensive media coverage - the Commissioner criticised the NHS Board for the most serious failings in records management and information recovery he has seen in his nine years in office.
Also in the newsletter, Mr Dunion published his response to the Freedom of Information (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill consultation.
In his special report, entitled Informing the Future - the State of Freedom of Information in Scotland, laid before Parliament in January, there were several indicators of the strength of FOI.
Mr Dunion said that public awareness of FOI is high - now standing at 80 per cent; people are increasingly using their rights of appeal - the number of applications made to him in 2011 was just short of the record 528 received in the first year of the law being in effect - and authorities are striving to meet their obligations and accept his decisions.
He also stated that the time taken to investigate appeals had markedly reduced so that, on average, cases are now closed within four months and all of this had led to Scotland having a deservedly high international reputation for effective implementation.
The Scottish Parliament has nominated Rosemary Agnew, chief executive of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, for appointment as the next Scottish Information Commissioner.