The Public Records Act 1958 deals with the disclosure of public records.
The Act places responsibility for the management of public records on departments. Each appoints a departmental record officer who is responsible for the care of all its records (including electronic records).
The Public Records Act 1958 (text) makes provision with respect to public records and the Public Record Office. Certain public records had to exist for 50 years before they could be made public.
The Public Records Act 1967 reduced this period to 30 years.
In October 2007, the Prime Minister announced an independent review of the 30 year rule. The review report was published in January 2009 and recommended a reduction to the 30 year rule. The Government decided that the period should progressively be reduced to 20 years, but with special protection for papers belonging to the Royal Family and the Cabinet Office.
About public records
The Public Records Act 1958 places responsibility for the management of public records on departments. Each appoints a departmental record officer who is responsible for the care of all its records (including electronic records). The departmental record officer's work on public records is carried out under the guidance and supervision of the National Archives through the staff of the records management department.
Staff of this department work with departmental record officers and their staff to select records for permanent preservation at the National Archives, to create finding aids to the records, and to ensure that the records are prepared and transferred to the correct archival standard. The records management department advises other government departments on good record keeping, and promotes the effective and efficient management of records across government.
Selection of public records takes place in two stages. The first, when the records have passed out of active use, usually takes place 5 years after a record has been created. At this point, records which are obviously worthless are destroyed, and those which have been identified as valuable for future administrative need, or future research are kept for further review at a later date. This process, known as second review takes place when the record is 15 to 25 years old. The lapse of time gives perspective to the judgment of which of these records are worthy of permanent preservation.
The Public Records Act also provides for the deposit of records in places other than The National Archives, at the discretion of the Lord Chancellor. Examples of such records include records of certain courts, and semi-independent local bodies which are of local interest, films and sound recordings, and certain records of the national museums and galleries.
Some amendments to public record legislation were also made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The Public Records Act 1958 (Admissibility of Electronic Copies of Public Records) Order 2001 amends the 1958 Act to allow electronic copies or extract from a public record to be admissible in evidence.
Public Records Act 1958 (text)