Government confirms new 20 year rule for official documents

The National Archives website has confirmed that the long-standing 30 year rule for the release of official documents will be reduced to a new 20 year rule from 2013 onwards. From 2013, two years worth of documents will be released each year, until the ‘backlog’ is cleared by 2023.

The change follows a review of the 30 year rule that I covered way back in 2009. We can look forward to important documents being released on key events in history, much sooner after they actually happened – it should be a real bonus for historians and researchers.

Some of the records that we should get to see early in the next few years include Northern Ireland in the 1980’s, the miners strike, Lockerbie, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, the first Gulf War.

Traditionally the 30 year rule had given protection to politicians and civil servants, that there actions would not be scrutinised too closely in the immediate aftermath of events. Of course, there is a fine balancing act between confidentiality on the one hand, and transparency and probity on the other.

One restrictive rule that is still in place is the 100 year rule for the release of census information. However, the 1911 census was released a couple of years early in 2009, and there is a Freedom of Information appeal ongoing for the wartime ‘mini-census’ to be released early.

I would also like to see a radical shift from the shortsighted British practice of charging for access to records, compared to countries such as Canada and Australia who make many documents available online for free. It stifles historic research to a degree that the mandarins and accountants could never understand.



Filed under News, Uncategorized

6 responses to “Government confirms new 20 year rule for official documents

  1. x

    It is when you here something from long time back is still decades from release that always piques my interest. And UFOs. 🙂

    • John Erickson

      Which UFOs? I mean, my people aren’t responsible for EVERY redneck who has ever claimed to have been probed. (We’ve done a LOT of them, but not all. Trying to increase their intelligence, you see.)

      • James Daly

        I had a look at some of TNA’s UFO files once, specifically a decades worth of reports from Hampshire. About the most interesting was a report from a bloke in Gosport who, on his walk home from the pub on a friday night, saw
        ‘flashing lights’ over Portsdown Hill. And to think some poor bloke at the MOD had to take these people seriously…

  2. John Erickson

    I’d love to see the British census from WW, as I believe the American one is already available. I can see withholding some things (would the US want the USSR to see it’s thoughts on the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1983, during the height of the Cold War?), but for “finished” conflicts (not sure if we can say that about the Malvinas … er … Falklands 😉 ), 20 years should be plenty of time. And with some of the bone-headed maneuvers US leaders have committed, they SHOULD be embarrassed, as soon as possible! 😀

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