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The rights stuff

Obtaining an LLM in information rights law proved invaluable to Alastair Graham’s career.

In 2004, having just retired after 34 years’ police service, I was appointed as Head of Information Disclosure with Grampian Police in Aberdeen.

This was a new police support staff post, to deal with challenges of data protection, freedom of information (FOI), records management and other related disciplines. Having previously been involved in the introduction of FOI to the police service in Scotland, the problems about to befall me were not entirely new.

Involvement in this type of work required a huge amount of application and knowledge; apart from empirical experience, proper academic training was difficult to access.

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This changed in the spring of 2007 when I found a flyer for Northumbria University’s LLM course in Information Rights Law and Practice. Enrolment quickly followed with the full support of my chief constable.

In 2006 I had successfully obtained the ISEB Freedom of Information certificate. However, the LLM course starting in 2007 was a significant personal challenge, having left school in 1966. Thankfully I was able to import knowledge from my day-to-day activities into situations that were germane, particularly in the fields of data protection and freedom of information.

After successful completion of the quarterly assignments the major work began with the 20,000-word dissertation. This was not easy given the competing interests of a 50-hour working week, but every opportunity for study was grabbed. Discipline and commitment were essential, as was access to relevant material and advice.

The time used in obtaining the degree was very well spent; the knowledge gained was of immense benefit to Grampian Police and the public in providing a service. Complex enquiries require an expert knowledge, for which the course had prepared me.

I was the chief constable’s reviewing officer between 2009-2012, conducting statutory internal reviews and making subsequent submissions to the Scottish Information Commissioner. I was also the police business lead for the introduction of the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) legislation and was the secretary of the chief officers’ information assurance and release committee. The synergy between the LLM content and my work was obvious.

I retired from Grampian Police in 2012, but the knowledge has not stagnated. I was appointed to the data protection and freedom of information accreditation committee of the Law Society of Scotland while in office and continue that membership. And I was recently appointed to the Society’s guarantee fund sub-committee as a Scottish lay member.

Information rights law and practice is growing in importance. This course confirmed that and provides an excellent preparation for employment, career and thereafter.

Alastair Graham is former Head of Information Disclosure at Grampian Police

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