Move to 20 year rule / reduction in lifespan of FOI exemptions implemented

An Order has been made implementing the reduction of the ’30 year rule’ to 20 years and the lifespan of some of the FOI Act’s exemptions to 20 years, amendments that were made by the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. The changes will take effect from 1 January 2013. Two further orders making transitional arrangements to phase in the changes, as set out by Lord McNally in a written ministerial statement, have been laid before Parliament:

This is a major change and it is therefore important that it is introduced in a manageable and affordable way. A phased approach will be adopted. The point at which records are transferred to The National Archives (largely central government records) will be reduced from 2013 over a ten year transitional period, with two years worth of records being transferred to The National Archives every year until transition is complete. From 2023, when this transition is complete, we will transfer the single year’s worth of records which are caught by the ‘20 year rule’ each year. This first stage of the change will affect an estimated 3.3 million records and cost an estimated £34.7-£38.5 million over ten years.We then intend to begin from 2015 a similar ten year transitional period for records transferred to 116 local authority places of deposit, subject to the outcome of further detailed work on costs and the impact to the local authority archive sector. Current estimates of the cost of the second phase are £5.6 million to £15 million over ten years. This will ensure that the ‘20 year rule’ is implemented in an affordable way that achieves the greatest level of transparency.

The maximum lifespan of a number of exemptions provided by the Freedom of Information Act will be reduced for all public authorities in parallel with the first transitional period. From 1 January 2014 the maximum duration of the following exemptions will reduce by one year per annum over a ten year period: sections 30 (investigations and proceedings conducted by public authorities); 32 (court records); 33 (audit functions); 35 (formulation and development of government policy); 36 (prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs), except in relation to Northern Ireland and the work of Executive Committee of Northern Ireland Assembly; and 42 (legal professional privilege).

The Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 (Commencement No. 7) Order 2012
The Public Records (Transfer to the Public Record Office) (Transitional and Saving Provisions) Order 2012
The Freedom of Information (Definition of Historical Records) (Transitional and Saving Provisions) Order 2012

The two transitional orders will come into force on 1 January 2013 subject to annulment by a resolution of either House of Parliament, i.e. they will have effect unless they are specifically rejected.

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