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The coming 20-year rule

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Martin Rosenbaum | 19:05 UK time, Thursday, 25 February 2010

The Ministry of Justice has just announced that most government documents will be made available to the public after 20 years in place of the current 30-year rule.

However some royal papers will be made absolutely exempt from freedom of information.

Ministers have also dropped their proposal to give cabinet records an absolute exemption from FOI.

The proposals are contained in amendments being tabled tonight to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill. They are part of the government's response (which has just been published) to last year's Dacre review, which examined the 30-year rule and recommended a cut to 15 years.

The plan to reduce the 30-year limit to 20 years and the increased protection for Royal communications are in line with the intentions Gordon Brown previously indicated, but the decision not to demand greater secrecy for cabinet papers represents a change in policy.

The government says the changes relating to the Royal Family, which involve communications with the Sovereign, the heir to the throne and the second in line, are needed because of "unintended lacunae in the drafting of the FOI Act".

The reduction to 20 years will have a phased implementation over several years and will not apply to some categories of material, such as that which could damage commercial interests.


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