Twenty-year rule on public records

From 2013 government papers will be progressively released to the public after 20 years; this is a reduction on the 30-year rule that had been in force.

Previously, at 30 years after creation, the closed records were transferred to The National Archives (TNA). This rule has been reviewed and, from January 2013, a move to 20 years begins.

Most records created by government departments are either destroyed when they are no longer of use, or closed to the public for a number of years.

Twenty-year rule

To meet this new target, government departments must now review at least two years' worth of records each year. Under the Public Records Act 1958, these records will be transferred to TNA.

The Home Office plans to conduct an accelerated transition programme. During 2013, the department will review 67 file series for transfer to TNA covering the years 1983-1991. This review programme consists of approximately 37,000 records, approximately one third of which will be selected for permanent preservation.

Review stages

The review consists of three stages:
1. Selection review - files of historic interest are identified

2. Sensitivity review - the department will release all possible content; however, for reasons of sensitivity, some material may need to be withheld, such as:

  • personal information under the Data Protection Act 1998
  • information that might prejudice the health and safety of individuals
  • operational policing information relating to criminal cases or current procedures

Any closure of information is conducted in line with the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Where possible the Home Office will remove (redact) small amounts of information from files, enabling the majority of a file to be opened at TNA.

3. Cataloguing and preparation - files are given descriptions that will aid searching and prepare for transfer to TNA


File series to be reviewed in 2013 have been prioritised according to the expected research value of the contents. These are:

All series require external consultations that can take longer than expected which may affect timing.

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