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Friday, January 30, 2009

UK Committee recommends 15 instead of 30 years for automatic disclosure

Paul Dacre, editor Daily Mail.

The Dacre Committee report on the UK 30 year rule was released this week, and as predicted in The Independent, recommended automatic release of government records after 15 years, and a phasing in of the new rule by releasing an additional year's records each year till catch-up is achieved.

The final report provides a valuable overview of the issues, including international comparisons of archives and Freedom of Information laws, all highly relevant to Australia. Our governments should similarly be reflecting on a rule Dacre describes as "anachronistic and unsustainable" and a"relic from a different age."

The evidence before the Committee:[ 6.1]
"The majority of evidence we have received and heard strengthens our preliminary view that the maintenance of the present 30 year rule is anachronistic and unsustainable. Indeed the case for reduction is very powerful: internationally and domestically, that is the direction in which both government practice and public expectation are moving; the passing of the Freedom of Information [FoI] Act has decisively and irreversibly enhanced the right of the public to have greater access to much more recent official information; and a rule that allows records to remain closed for 30 years, unless access is requested under FoI, thus appears to be an unenforceable relic from a different age."

The Committee's conclusion[6.18-19]
"The drawbacks of instant or premature disclosure of official records, both in terms of collective responsibility and effective government, and also in undermining the orderly and scheduled transfer of official records to The National Archives, mean that there must be some rule. But we do not believe that earlier general access, which would be made possible by a significant reduction in the 30 year rule, would be detrimental to good government. On the contrary, we consider it to be desirable in the public interest. Accordingly, we conclude that the 30 year rule is no longer appropriate in the current climate of public opinion and expectation, and with a functioning FoI Act which allows access to many official records at much earlier dates."

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