Appraisal and selection (analogue / “paper” records): general principles
All records, regardless of their format, are subject to the Act. The issues relating to the management of born-digital records will be the subject of additional guidance to be published in due course.
The coroner should consult the Place of Deposit regarding the appraisal and selection of records due for transfer.
All registers of deaths reported should be selected for permanent preservation, along with any related indexes.
There is no requirement to select files of cases that do not proceed to inquest for permanent preservation and transfer to the PoD unless the PoD has exercised its discretionary right to select additional material for permanent preservation.
There is no requirement to select Treasure Trove inquest files as the British Museum holds a complete set of such records; however, the Coroner and the place of deposit may select files for those inquests that have particularly strong local interest and value if they wish. There is no requirement to select all inquest files; however, there is an expectation that at least a proportion of inquest records for each year, selected on the basis of the criteria, will be preserved.
Care should be taken to select files which:
- document local patterns of causes of death
- set a precedent in law or practice
- relate to an individual, accident or crime subject to prolonged or repeated interest from the national media
- reflect specific causes of national interest that may be of short duration as well as long term trends.
Any proposed major departure from these criteria should be agreed with The National Archives’ Archives Sector Development department and fully documented. Existing practice should be reviewed and if necessary revised in the light of this guidance.
Coroners should consult the PoD about any category or format of record which is not included in the selection criteria.
The appraisal process itself can result in individual staff experiencing distress as a result of repeated or prolonged exposure to graphic and upsetting material. PoDs are advised to devise local procedures or protocols to mitigate this. A sample protocol implemented by London Metropolitan Archives which covers this, and other procedural issues is offered in here as an example which can be adapted to suit local practices.
Access and sensitivity review: general principles
Any records which have not yet been formally selected and transferred under the Act, but which are in the custody of the PoD under a “records management” arrangement, are held by the PoD on behalf of the coroner. Access to these is in accordance with Coroners’ Rules and any service level agreement with the local authority.
Until 2005, access to records less than 75 years old which had been transferred to a PoD under the Act was granted at the discretion of the coroner by force of a statutory instrument. This instrument is no longer in force. Since 2005, records held under the Act have been accessible to the public unless an exemption listed in the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) allows them to be closed to public access temporarily.
The public may appeal access restrictions via the Information Commissioner and the Tribunal system.
Where the coroner considers temporary closure necessary, this information should be included in the transfer lists, in a format agreed with the PoD. The PoD will need sufficient detail to enable them to identify the information and understand the reasons it is being withheld, i.e., the specific FOIA exemptions which would be cited when refusing a request for information.