Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Compliance with the Section 46 Code

At end of 2006/beginning of 2007 Central Govt will be assessed for compliance with the S46 Code of Practice on Records Management issued under the Freedom of Information Act (also see the National Archives S46 audit page: "The National Archives is developing a programme to assess the level of risk faced by government departments through poor information management and failure to comply with this Code".)

It appears that Central government will be physically audited whilst other public sector bodies may be required to complete a self assessment. This is the first time such an audit has taken place and will provide a snapshot of how RM is working in the public sector for the first time in the FOIA era. The National Archives have also published the final version of their S.46 compliance toolkit.

Background: The Freedom of Information Act encourages all public authorities to maintain their records in accordance with the provisions of a Code of Practice issued by the Lord Chancellor under section 46. The Information Commissioner is inlvolved in the process: there is a Memorandum of Understanding and a Service Level Agreement which sets out in more detail the support provided to the Information Commissioner by The National Archives in the in the issue of S46 assessment.

It is worth noting that the forward to the S46 Code states:
"The Information Commissioner will promote the observance of the Code by public authorities, acting as required by the FOIA. If it appears to the Commissioner that the practice of an authority in relation to the exercise of its functions under the FOIA does not conform with that set out in the Code, he may issue a practice recommendation under section 48 of the Act. A practice recommendation must be in writing and must specify the provisions of the Code which have not been met and the steps which should, in his opinion, be taken to promote conformity with Code."
I've highlighted in my Select Committe evidence that the ICO had not issued any S48 recommendations - perhaps this may change soon once the assessments have taken place.

I would highlight the importance of having conducted an information survey or record audit as part of the the S46 compliance process (see my article on information auditing).

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