Should the 30-year rule of disclosure be dispensed with?

Public access to sensitive government information after the end of the Second World War has been controlled by first the 50-year rule and, since 1967, the 30-year rule of disclosure.

Robert Verkaik, Law Editor of the Independent writes: "While much of the material released to the National Archives under this regime has been of interest to historians, very little has been of any use to those who want, or need, to know the business of the government of the day. So it is very welcome that Gordon Brown has decided to consider proposals for a less restrictive set of rules for placing important government information in the public domain."

Brown has asked Paul Dacre, Editor-in-Chief of Associated Newspapers and member of the Press Complaints Commission, to lead a review team responsible for coming up with suggestions for prioritising the release of documents that wouldn't normally see the light of day for at least 30 years.

Verkaik is of the view that "such a move was inevitable after the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which granted a general right of disclosure to the public at any time. What Mr Dacre and his team must do is find new ways of releasing information that is no longer nationally or personally sensitive. "

"It is clear that ministers and their Whitehall advisers will put up a fight. Many Freedom of Information requests are routinely blocked as part of a defensive strategy aimed at reducing the reach of the new right-to-know law. But in the last year the Government and Parliament have lost a series of key battles."

"The Information Commissioner and the Information Tribunal have made it clear that harmless information that has been refused disclosure on political grounds should not remain secret."

Freedom Of Information: The time has come to end the 30-year rule of disclosure (The Independent, 30 May 2008)