Freedom of information in Scotland and the rest of the UK

Two different freedom of information acts came into force on 1 January 2005. The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, with which the University is concerned, and the UK Freedom of Information Act 2000, which applies to England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act applies to Scottish public authorities. UK public authorities that operate in Scotland will follow the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the UK Act), for example the Council for Science and Technology, the British Waterways Board and the Equal Opportunities Commission. In all other respects the UK Act does not apply to Scotland.

The two Acts can be viewed at the following links:

Main differences between the Acts

Whilst the two Acts are broadly similar in many respects, some of the provisions of the Scottish Act are more rigorous.

Some of the main differences between the two regimes are:

  • The Scottish Act provides a straightforward right of access to information held, whereas the UK Act provides a right to be told whether or not information is held and to be provided with that information.
  • The tests for exempt material are different. The Scottish Act requires public authorities claiming an exemption to exercise the public-interest test, where applicable, within the 20 working day response period. The UK Act does not give a time limit. The harm test in the Scottish Act requires that disclosure would "substantially prejudice" the effective conduct of public affairs / the commercial interests of an individual / etc. The UK Act stipulates only "prejudice".
  • Both Acts allow public authorities to recoup a proportion of the costs involved in providing information to individual requests (10% of search costs). However, in Scotland the first £100 is waived.
  • The publication scheme requirements are different. The Scottish Act requires public authorities to take into account the public interest in information relating to: the provision of services, including the cost of provision and the standards of those services; and major decisions made by the public authority, including facts and analyses on which the decisions are based. The UK Act only requires public authorities to have regard for the public interest in allowing public access to the information held by the authority and in the reasons for major decisions made by the authority.
  • The UK Act allows information which is due to be published at some future date to be withheld until its publication (where it is reasonable to do so). The Scottish Act limits the withholding of information that is to be published to a maximum of 12 weeks, unless the information relates to a programme of research.
  • The UK Act is policed by the UK Information Commissioner, the Scottish Act is policed by the Scottish Information Commissioner (the UK Information Commissioner also polices the Data Protection Act, data protection legislation is not devolved).

Comparative table

The Office of the Scottish Information Commissioner has produced a table comparing the Scottish and UK freedom of information legislation.