FOI investigation to examine Deputy First Minister’s office
The Information Commissioner confirmed the investigation is part of a wider review of the Scottish Government’s handling of FOI requests.
A watchdog has confirmed it will investigate the handling of freedom of information (FOI) requests by the Deputy First Minister’s office.
Scottish Information Commissioner Daren Fitzhenry was asked to examine whether a request from John Swinney and his special adviser Colin McAllister led to information being withheld from an FOI release.
In a letter to Liberal Democrat MSP Tavish Scott, who requested the examination, Mr Fitzhenry confirmed the case would form part of a wider review into the Scottish Government’s handling of FOI requests.
The commissioner confirmed the review would look into what the role special advisers have in the process and if there is any evidence of requests being blocked for refused for “tenuous reasons”.
He will also investigate if politically sensitive requests are handled in a different way and if this is detrimental.
The letter stated the cases Mr Scott referred to “will be included in the list of cases to be examined”.
Ministers previously told Parliament special advisers only assess responses for accuracy but research by lecturer and journalist James McEnaney suggests documents were removed from an FOI release at the request of Mr Swinney and Mr McAllister.
Mr Scott said: “The Information Commissioner is quite right to investigate these serious allegations.
“The documents reluctantly released by the Scottish Government suggested that special advisers were interfering in the content of replies to freedom of information requests in the very same week that ministers told me and Parliament they weren’t.
“What ministers would ‘prefer’ isn’t relevant when it comes to freedom of information. It is a matter of the law and the public’s right to information which is clearly defined in legislation.
“We need to see a thorough investigation of the Scottish Government’s approach to information governance.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “There is no investigation into the Deputy First Minister or his office and the Commissioner’s letter does not support Mr Scott’s claim.
“The Information Commissioner’s response to Mr Scott confirms that the case in question is one being considered as part of his general assessment of the Scottish Government’s approach to Freedom of Information.
“This action was set out publicly in a letter last week by the Information Commissioner.”