Before the winding up of the inquiry, it is important to make decisions regarding which records can be disposed of and which will be permanently preserved to serve as the record of the inquiry. Taking selection decisions at the point at which information is created is an effective way of ensuring efficiencies are made and a comprehensive inquiry record is preserved.
The secretary should make sure that inquiry staff are clear on where to file vital records and understand what needs to be preserved beyond the publication of the final report and after the inquiry has come to an end. Decisions over what information should be kept for permanent preservation should also be documented to ensure transparency in the selection process.
The inquiry needs to agree with The National Archives (and, where applicable, the Cabinet Office and sponsoring department) what is required for permanent preservation. This includes agreement over the destruction of information which is deemed to have no long-term value. In the course of evaluating the value of inquiry records, teams should consider the following:
- It should be made clear which records of the inquiry are required for permanent preservation, including such administrative records as can demonstrate effectively the independence of the inquiry process
- The inquiry should store and maintain any records identified for transfer in accordance with best practice prior to their transfer. (For more details about managing records see the Freedom of Information Act section 46 Code of Practice)
- Selection decisions are not based on the format of the records but on the nature and contents. However, the format and any metadata or licensing issues need to be identified and raised at an early stage with The National Archives or sponsoring department
- Original records (or parts of a record) should not be permanently destroyed solely because they are highly sensitive. To do so would compromise the authenticity of the record and detract from the accountability and credibility of the inquiry and they can be given the necessary protection by means short of destruction
- Any remaining records of the public inquiry not selected for permanent preservation can be set for destruction or review after a stated period. These should be agreed with The National Archives
- The inquiry team needs to demonstrate that there is a mechanism in place for the secure destruction of agreed material and including electronic backups
- Most administrative and housekeeping records can be destroyed in accordance with generic retention scheduling guidelines issued by The National Archives
- Disposal schedules should be passed to the sponsoring department, which detail relevant records and the date of which they were destroyed. The National Archives has published a Appraisal recommendations for Public Inquiries, which inquiries set up under the Inquiries Act 2005 should use. The National Archives recommends that that all other inquiries adopt this retention schedule as best practice
- The National Archives can be contacted for ongoing advice on selection and disposal, by phone or via the following email: GovernmentHelpPoint@nationalarchives.gov.uk
The inquiry team should consider the following pieces of information for permanent preservation (although this is not an exhaustive list):
- the inquiry report, including the initial draft report, subsequent drafts in which substantial changes were made and the final published version
- the contents of the inquiry website
- audio records and transcripts of interviews and hearings
- all evidence relevant to the terms of reference
- all minutes of the inquiry panel or meetings held during the course of the inquiry by the panel
- correspondence by the inquiry team with members of the public, interested parties, and government bodies
- witness statements and expert reports
- evidence of steps taken to secure the attendance of witnesses
- all written submissions and transcripts of oral submissions
- establishment documentation including terms of reference, protocols created by the inquiry to regulate its conduct, policies concerning the conduct of the inquiry, advice given by counsel to the inquiry in relation to its conduct, criteria used for determining the relevance of material presented to the inquiry from all sources, internal procedures and overall costings.