Scotland’s new Information Commissioner for the next EIGHT YEARS ? SLCC Chief Exec Rosemary Agnew is tipped by some to replace Kevin Dunion, yet others question her openness credentials after SLCC widely abused FOI REVELATIONS in the media this week report Rosemary Agnew, the current Chief Executive of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC), who is one of the candidates favoured to replace the outgoing Kevin Dunion for the position of Scottish Information Commissioner, has been ‘rebuked’ on at least FIVE OCCASIONS by the Information Commissioner for withholding information to the extent the SLCC has been named in a league of shame of public bodies which openly flout Freedom of Information laws.
From further reports it transpires Ms Agnew had also shockingly used FOI exemptions refuse the release of key data on how much compensation was paid to clients of solicitors, while Scottish Parliament officials conducted interviews for the key FOI post which will give the candidate a position in protecting information rights in Scotland for the next EIGHT YEARS.
The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has not issued any statement so far on what effect Ms Agnew’s decision to stand for the FOI role will have on the SLCC, which has already lost an earlier Chief Executive, Eileen Masterman in mysterious circumstances which where also covered up from Freedom of Information requests made by journalists after revelations Ms Masterman had negotiated a large PAY OFF which was personally sanctioned by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill.
If Ms Agnew gets the post, the SLCC will have to recruit its THIRD CHIEF EXECUTIVE IN THREE YEARS, an issue which has raised concerns among consumer groups & the legal profession about the ability of the law complaints regulator to do its job properly.
During Ms Agnew’s term at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, firstly as Head of Investigations and then taking over the role of Chief Executive upon the demise of Eileen Masterman, the SLCC has been the subject of multiple investigations by the Scottish Information Commissioner, most of which have gone against the SLCC who frequently sought to cover up its workings and information which identified massive failings within the quango, along with bitter personal feuds between its board members who openly turned on members of the public & journalists in secret email exchanges which also featured in the media. Ms Agnew was also reported to have refused to monitor individual claims against the Law Society of Scotland’s Master Policy, a matter reported by Scots law blog Diary of Injustice, HERE.
Reported in the Daily Record newspaper earlier this week :
Jan 9 2012 Exclusive by Chris Musson
TIP FORCED TO DISCLOSE
A WOMAN tipped to be Scotland's new anti-secrecy tsar has had a string of rulings made against her by the man she could replace.
Rosemary Agnew, who heads the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, is one of six people interviewed to be the next Information Commissioner. But Kevin Dunion has slapped down the SLCC eight times - five since Agnew took over as Chief Executive in October 2010.
Legal Reform campaigner Peter Cherbi, who had several requests knocked back by the SLCC, cast doubt over her suitability. He said : "How someone like that could be put in charge of openness is beyond me, unless they want to shut down openness and accountability."
Agnew did not respond to requests for a comment.
THE public bodies who fought tooth-and-nail to keep secrets from you are today exposed by the Record. The Government, police forces, councils and taxpayer-funded quangos all flouted anti-secrecy laws by knocking back legitimate Freedom of Information requests. They were forced to back down by Kevin Dunion, Scotland’s first Information Commissioner, who ruled in favour of the public 359 times since the new rules came into force in January 2005.
The worst offenders were the Scottish Government, who wrongly refused to disclose information 78 times over the last seven years. However, they also received the highest number of requests of any public body. Second on the league of shame were Edinburgh City Council, with 22 decisions against them. Third were Glasgow City Council with 17 decisions fully in favour of applicants, and fourth were Scottish Water with 15.
Among legitimate requests knocked back were details on the numbers of sex offenders in various areas – with Strathclyde Police, Grampian Police and Northern Constabulary all falling foul. Surgical mortality rates were also wrongly withheld by the NHS, as were details of public payments to firms of private consultants.
Dunion and his office made 1336 decisions to December 14, 2011. As well as the 359 fully in favour of the person appealing a refusal, 450 were partly in their favour.
A person who gets knocked back for an FoI request must first appeal to the public body before going to the Information Commissioner. It is time-consuming, meaning many members of the public give up, even if they have a good case.
But public bodies often fight to the bitter end, despite decisions being overturned by the Information Commissioner. Public bodies’ disregard for the laws is still widespread seven years on – and even appears to be growing. Last year saw the highest total for successful appeals by the public – on 85 occasions.
Dunion, who grew up in Fife and Clackmannanshire and was the rector of St Andrews University until 2011, steps down next month from the post of Information Commissioner he has held since 2003. Tomorrow, he will present a special report to the Scottish Parliament on his time in the job, and will urge the Government to “safeguard and strengthen” openness from public bodies.
Yesterday, he told the Record he was confident Scotland had “made a success” of freedom of information since 2005. He added said: “Public awareness of Freedom of Information is at an all-time high. Public authorities are responding to requests and information is being disclosed which would otherwise have remained secret. “We know much more about contracts and expenses, deaths in hospitals and local crime rates because of FoI. “Of course, there are disputes and failings which is why the free right of appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner is so important.”
He said most appeals were from members of the public, adding: “In the majority of my decisions I have found, at least in part, that the appeal was justified.”