Freedom of Information Deadlines Extended
Under the new legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament on 2 April 2020, the deadline that public authorities have to respond to freedom of information requests has been extended from 20 working days to 60. The time allowed for a public authority to review its decision has also been extended from 20 days to 60 days.
It is also possible to extend the initial period to respond by a maximum of 40 days but only if permitted by a Scottish Minister after consultation with the Scottish Information Commissioner. The public authority must notify the applicant that an extension has been granted before the initial 60 days has expired. The Scottish Government cannot take advantage of this additional extension.
There are two sets of circumstances, one of which has to apply before the additional extension is granted. Either:
- that it is not reasonably practicable to respond to the request within the usual time period because of the volume and complexity of the information requested, or
- because of the overall number of requests being dealt with by the authority at the time that the request is made.
The Scottish Information Commissioner notes that there is still an obligation to respond promptly to requests, but the extension recognises the pressure that many public bodies are under at the moment and aims to “enable Scottish public authorities to better utilise resources to respond to coronavirus”.
There is also a provision which allows the Scottish Information Commissioner to consider the impact of coronavirus on the authority when deciding whether they have failed to comply with the statutory deadlines.
As with other aspects of this emergency legislation, the extension is temporary and will be in place until end September 2020 at which time it can be extended for another 6 months on two further occasions, but the provisions must be reviewed every 6 months.
The extension only applies to FOISA and not to the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations.
For further information please contact Laura Irvine, Partner and Data Protection and Freedom of Information expert.