During the course of a public inquiry large volumes of information, in varying formats, will be created and stored. It is good practice to organise this information into a meaningful filing structure. This will enable records to be readily found and understood and will help effective management of sensitive information in compliance with legislation such as the Data Protection Act 1998.
The filing plan for both paper and digital files should reflect the activities of the inquiry through a planned and managed series of folders. This will allow staff to file and retrieve information efficiently as well as allowing the inquiry secretary to control access to information.
A file plan should:
- be easy to understand for those who add and use information within it
- classify the information according to the activities of the inquiry
- apply to all records of the inquiry including both paper and electronic record collections
- provide and preserve context within which the records were created
- allow associated metadata to be captured and managed – metadata is technical or cataloguing information about digital or paper records
- provide appropriate levels of access to inquiry staff and security for sensitive information
Placing records into an effective file plan will help ensure that the inquiry complies with relevant legislation. A file plan should help keep a comprehensive and well ordered record in compliance with the Public Records Act 1958 and Inquiry Rules 2006. When establishing the file plan, inquiry staff should also consider the management of sensitive information, such as personal data or information that needs a protective marking. The file plan should help the inquiry to comply with the seventh data protection principle, which requires precautions against unauthorised or unlawful processing, damage, loss or destruction.
Reviewing information at the end of the inquiry process can be expensive and time consuming, and good records management processes can help facilitate efficient sensitivity reviews. For example, if information is expected to be subject to Freedom of Information (FOI) exemptions once the inquiry record passes to a body subject to the FOI Act, such as The National Archives or the sponsoring department, this should be recorded at the point of filing and the information placed into an appropriate part of the filing plan. Sensitive material needs to be easily identifiable within the filing structure established by the inquiry team and must be managed according to data handling guidelines, both during and after the life of the inquiry.