There are a number of measures in place to ensure that best practices and the law are complied with; to provide safeguards for public bodies so that "confidential/ commercial" information remains exempt from release; and to ensure that requesters can challenge public bodies when a decision is taken not to release information.
What sanctions can be applied for non-compliance?
There are a number of measures which the Scottish Information Commissioner can invoke to enforce a public body to comply with the Act including:
- Serving of enforcement notices
- Naming and shaming in the annual report resulting in the reputational damage of Heriot-Watt University
- Fines up to £5,000
- Possible imprisonment for contempt of court
Colleagues should note that it is a criminal offence to wilfully and knowingly destroy documentation, regardless of format e.g. hard-copy or electronic, in relation to a request for information.
Is there an appeal process if we withhold information?
Yes. If Heriot-Watt University decides to withhold the release of information, the requester has the right to us to review the decision. This review will normally be undertaken by a review panel comprised of the Secretary of the University plus other senior staff not involved in our original decision depending on the nature of the case. This will therefore provide an independent and objective view.
The panel will have copies of all the documents and supporting arguments and review these before they take an informed decision.
If the Review Panel also decides to withhold the information and the requester remains dissatisfied with our response, they can then appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner. The Commissioner can then investigate the decision and determine whether the requester should receive the information in full, or in part.
Does the Scottish Information Commissioner have the final say as to whether information should be released of withheld?
No. If Heriot-Watt University decided to withhold information and our decision was upheld by the Scottish Information Commissioner, the requester has the right take the matter to the courts or complain to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (the SPSO).
What happens if our response goes over the 20 day deadline?
If you feel that we need and extension in order to gather the information, please contact HIG immediately. We wold normally try and negotiate a revised deadline with the requester.
Should the applicant decide to make a complaint about the time it has taken to release the information, the Scottish Information Commissioner can apply a test of "reasonableness" to assess the time delay.
What would happen if the requester complains that the no response has been received after the 20 day deadline has lapsed?
If the requester does not receive a response within 20 working days, they can complain to the University via the revised complaints procedures, or they can notify the Scottish Information Commissioner.
The Office of the Scottish Information Commissioner will be naming and shaming public authorities who consistently go over the 20 day limit.