Sunday, October 10

A case for Jim Hacker

New legislation could lead to the destruction of government records - the opposite of what is intended, presumably.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) which comes into force on 1 January 2005 will make it an offence to destroy records once a formal request has been made to see them. However there is nothing to stop officials from destroying records being destroyed prior to a request being made.

The FIOA allows the public to request information from more than 100,000 public authorities, subject to exemptions such as national security. The law will be retrospective, so unless an exemption applies, the current 30-year rule lapses and researchers will be able to ask for documents on events from any time up to the present day. This will in practice mean that civil and public servants will be encouraged to destroy 'unwanted' records. This has been confirmed by a comment from a Mr.Richard Smith the FOIA Compliance Officer at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister who commented ''Initiatives are coming down to us to whittle away our records, throw away anything not being used and to properly file those records decide not to keep.''

The Campaign for the Freedom of Information is concerned that information could be destroyed in anticipation of the Act coming into force.

Howard Davis from the National Archives said in an article in the BBC History Magazine (October edition) '' there has been a noticeable increase in the use of disposable schedules ''.

Public authorities apparently have ''folder controllers'' who weed out records before passing them on to a departmental records manager, though this process is generally informal so there is no auditable record of distraction.

All of this is clearly a case for the Department of Administrative Affairs !

Comments welcome.


Anonymous said...

The National Archives and The Instute of Historical Research are running a one day seminar on the Freedom of Information Act on 3 Nnovember 04.
The sminar is free but places are limited. The venue is the Chancellors Hall, Senate House, The University of London. Details from:

Raymond said...

If I ever post a comment here it won't be under the name "Anonymous"