30 year rule for historic records reduced to 20 years

I took this photograph myself when I went on a...

The National Archives in Kew (Image via Wikipedia)

The Ministry of Justice has announced that the current 30-year rule for historic official documents is to be reduced to 20 years.

Currently, official Government documents handed to the National Archives are closed for 30 years after they were produced. This means, for example, that documents relating to the Falklands War in 1982 are expected to become available in 2012. The exception, of course, is material that is judged to be too sensitive on national security grounds.

This is welcome news for historians, as it means that more historic records will be available for research much more quickly. According to the announcement on the ministry’s website, however, the process may take a while:

“To amend the Public Records Act to reduce the 30-year rule so that historical records are generally made available at The National Archives and other places of deposit after 20 years; this will be transitioned over a 10 year period at a rate of two years’ worth of records being transferred per year, with a view to commencing the process in 2013″

This still means however that documents relating to a whole host of events in the 1980’s will become available up to 10 years earlier than anticipated – the Falklands War, Thatcher‘s disputes with the Unions, Northern Ireland and the IRA, and possibly even documents relating to football hooliganism, Thatcher’s downfall and the first Gulf War. It has also been argued that the move will enhance transparency in Government, as ministers will only have to wait 20 years for their actions to come under scrutiny, rather than the present cushion of three decades.

Oliver Morley, Acting Chief Executive of The National Archives, said: ‘We look forward to working with government to implement these changes and will play a pivotal role in smoothing the transition for the records bodies involved.’

The move comes following a review of the 30 year rule in 2008. The 30 year rule has been increasingly redundant, as the Freedom of Information Act has made it possible for members of the public to request the opening up of material well before its 30 year closure has elapsed. This is particularly relevant with harmless and non-sensitive material that will help historians and family history enthusiasts alike.

I have also often thought that the 100 year limit on the national census returns is also excessive – might 50 years not be more sensible? I long for the day we can all access the little-known ‘wartime census’.

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27 responses to “30 year rule for historic records reduced to 20 years

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention 30 year rule for historic records reduced to 20 years « Daly History Blog -- Topsy.com

  2. John Erickson

    This is good news for British history. You’ll be able to see official documents covering historical events while the participants stand a good chance of still being alive. Nothing is more frustrating to we historians than to wait on the government for documents, only to find the participants died in the interim. 30 years might not sound too long (especially when, here in the US, there’s still many WW2 documents yet to be released, 70 years later), but many wounded or sick soldiers could die in that time. Plus, as James pointed out, the shortened release time allows judgment of responsibility much sooner after the fact. Maybe this will shift US policy towards more openness, though I won’t be holding my breath.
    James – Any idea if this has any impact on the Commonwealth, or is this a purely UK decision?

    • James Daly

      John I doubt it will affect the commonwealth, as after WW2 and the loosening of the strings of Empire Aus, Canadia, New Zealand etc went their own way. It might however influence their respective national archives to go down a similar route. One would hope so.

    • John Erickson

      Actually, I just read something (in the Hamilton Spectator, if I recall) that rated Canada dead last in freedom of information. (The study covered Britain, Canada, Australia, the US, and one other that escapes me at the moment.) Seems they were quite good, but their laws have become somewhat outdated, complicated by no growth in the organisation that organises and distributes the released documents (despite obvious growth in the population and number of documents). Maybe Canada needs to take a page from you folk, eh?

  3. x

    Realise of the Falklands documents is something I (and probably a lot of naval and military book sellers) am looking forward.

    One of my priority book purchases when I escape the temp’ing treadmill is the two volume official history.

    • James Daly

      I want to get my Portsmouth WW2 dead book out of the way in time for 2012 when the Falklands documents come out. Hopefully amongst the inane ‘popular’ historians churning out the same old rubbish there will be some material for me to produce something interesting…

      • x

        We can but hope. But I will be surprised if there is anything more to say. I think I have nearly every major book on the war and many of less well known in a ten year period. One of the last I got was One Hundred Days, and only in paper book. I won’t be surprised to find in 2012 that Woodward didn’t go South…. 😉 🙂

        • x

          On a related note I was accused on a popular defence page of being a bit bonkers because of an assertion that there were real security concerns that if Argentina kept the Falklands the Soviets would take advantage of the deep anchorages. It hurt a bit. I am not very imaginative. But it seems being widely read on topic leaves you open to this sort of thing by the not so widely read.

          • James Daly

            I dont think theres anything wrong with thinking outside the box – we all know that the Tu-Bears were snooping over the Task Force, as were the ubiquitous ‘fishing trawlers’.

            We cannot forget that everything in 1982 was through the wider prism of the Cold War.

          • John Erickson

            X- Look at it this way. If somebody’s attacking you, then somebody is reading your posts! And there’s a troubling pattern of those attacked for their military foresight being proved correct in time. I’d say being in the same company as Billy Mitchell is something to be proud of!

            • x

              Thanks guys.

              It just makes you a bit guarded about left field. I read something year back and added into a conversation to add spice and get burned.

              Too many defence forums are all specs, acronyms, and keeping the status quo.

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