June 30th, 2010

Various changes were made to FOIA by the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, which was passed during the “wash up” at the end of the last Parliament.  See section 46 of and Schedule 7 to the Act. In particular:

• The exemption in section 37(1) of FOIA (relating to communications with the Sovereign and with other members of the Royal Family) was extended. In relation to the Sovereign and the heir to the Throne, the exemption was made absolute .

• The period at which a record becomes a “historical record” was altered (this is often referred to as the “30 year rule”). Under FOIA as originally enacted, a record became a historical record at the end of 30 years beginning with the year following that in which it was created: see FOIA section 62(1). Information contained in a historical record could be exempt by virtue of sections 28, 30(1), 32, 33, 35, 36, 37(1)(a), 42 or 43: see FOIA section 63(1). Under the 2010 Act the period of 30 years is reduced to 20 years . Provision is made for a 10 year transitional period in introducing this change . However, in respect of section 36 (so far as it relates to certain information concerning Northern Ireland), section 28, or section 43, the time after which these exemptions can no longer be relied upon will remain 30 years not 20 years .

The reforms to the 30 year rule followed the Dacre Review, published on 29th January 2009 (see our earlier post here).

As yet it remains unclear when, or whether, these amendments will be brought into force.  This is a significant piece of unfinished business left over from the last Parliament.

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