The Scottish Information Commissioner, Rosemary Agnew, has reprimanded Police Scotland for failing to implement freedom of information (FoI) law.
In her latest annual report, published today, she points out that the number of appeals against the police for not providing information has increased by 80 per cent from 45 in 2014-15 to 81 in 2015-16.
Police Scotland received 2,839 FoI requests last year, more than any other public agency in Scotland. But almost three per cent of them ended up being appealed to Agnew, more than three times the average for all Scotland’s public sector.
The police’s main failing was their inability to locate information they held, she said. “They could be doing things more efficiently,” she told The Ferret. “They need to engender a culture of openness from the top down, and sort out their information records management.”
Agnew has twice made direct interventions to try and improve Police Scotland’s behaviour. She met with the deputy chief constable, Iain Livingstone, last month to discuss FoI issues, and in September 2015 she requested corrections to the way information was published on the police website.
She recognised that the police were trying to improve their procedures, and had “legacy issues” from the merger of regional police forces in 2013. “They are an organisation with challenges,” she said. “I will keep an eye on them.”
Agnew also said that the Scottish Government’s failure to provide information had prompted the highest proportion of appeals. Ministers and their agencies received 3.1 per cent (2,109) of all FoI requests in 2015-16, but accounted for 18 per cent of all valid appeals (see table below).
She found against the Scottish Government on 42 per cent of the appeals, either partially or wholly upholding complaints. On Police Scotland, she partially or wholly upheld 52 per cent of appeals by requesters.
There has been a significant rise in all appeals from the media, from 68 in 2014-15 to 107 in 2015-16. “Although the rise is attributable to appeals from a small number of journalists on single, sensitive issues, it is a cause for concern as journalists tell us that often they don’t appeal because of the timescales involved,” said Agnew’s report.
Overall, 20 per cent of appeals to Agnew came from journalists, compared to 61 per cent from members of the public. In total she dealt with 540 appeals in 2015-16, compared to 474 the previous year.
Police Scotland pointed out that 97 per cent of the FoI requests they received were not appealed to Agnew. “Police Scotland receives more freedom of information request than any other public body in Scotland, many of which are extremely complex and reflect the challenging environment in which we operate,” said Superintendent Fergus Byrne.
“It is important to stress than an appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner does not mean that our response is inadequate, merely that an applicant is exercising their right to have an independent review of a decision made in respect of complex legislation. We work closely with the commissioner to improve our response to such requests and the direction of travel in recent months has been positive. We will continue to build on this in the months ahead.”