Proposals to automatically release government records after 15 years instead of the present 30 year period were welcomed by the Campaign for Freedom of Information today.
The proposals are made by a committee chaired by Paul Dacre, editor in chief of Associated Newspapers, which had been asked to review the 30 year rule by the Prime Minister. Its report, published today, says that a new “15 year rule” should be adopted and phased in over a period of years, possibly taking full effect by 2025. Freedom of Information Act requests could still be made for individual government records, regardless of their age, but once records were 15 years old they would normally automatically become available in The National Archives.
The Campaign’s director Maurice Frankel said: “A 15 year rule would mean records becoming available while we can still remember the events they refer to. For most people what happened 30 years ago is ancient history. Disclosure after 15 years would throw light on decisions while their impact is still remembered, their consequences still felt and the ministers and other participants likely to still be around and able to answer questions about their own role.”
The Campaign said that documents about government decisions were increasingly becoming available under FOI after only months or a few years, and that delaying full disclosure for 30 years was anachronistic and reinforced a tendency towards secrecy.
The Campaign particularly welcomed the proposal that the government should consider amending the Civil Service code to require officials to keep “full, accurate and impartial records of government business”. It said such a duty was now essential in light of the government’s repeatedly expressed view that FOI was likely to deter officials from keeping frank records.
However the Campaign expressed reservations about the committee’s proposal that the names of civil servants should normally be blacked out from released documents. The Campaign said this conflicted with rulings of the Information Commissioner and the Information Tribunal which held that the identities of senior officials should normally be disclosed, in the interests of accountability, unless there was a risk to them or some other specific reason to conceal their identity and that anonymity was generally appropriate only for junior officials.
The committee’s report is available from: www.30yearrulereview.org.uk/final-report.htm
The Campaign’s submission is available from: www.cfoi.org.uk/pdf/cfoi_30yr_submission.pdf
Maurice Frankel or Katherine Gundersen 020 7490 3958