Workbook on Digital Private Papers > Legal issues > Proposed archival legislation for England and Wales

Proposed archival legislation for England and Wales

Following on from the Government Policy on Archives which was issued by the Lord Chancellor as a command paper in 1999 (Cm 4516), The National Archives drafted a consultation paper containing proposals for new archival legislation (August 2003). The scope of the paper is limited to England and Wales, and specifically to 'organisations and issues which are the responsibility of the UK government' and to local and regional goverment. Section two of the proposal, 'Records Management and Digital Records in Central Government', specifically refers to digital archives. The consultation paper sets out the unique features (dependence on technology and flexibility) and needs of digital records, but does not recommend entirely separate provision for them.

Problems with the existing legislation

The 2003 paper argues that the PRAs were written with paper records in mind and that some of the provisions are predicated on a concept of 'original' which cannot be easily applied to digital records. The existing legislative framework makes the application of a migration strategy particularly difficult. This is because, under existing provisions, each time a record is migrated to a new format, TNA would need the permission of the Lord Chancellor and the Minister of the originating government department to formally de-accession the old version of the record and to accession the new version. This method is clearly unworkable as the number of digital archives at TNA grows.

Changing the definition of 'public record' for a digital world

The consultation calls for a 'duty to preserve the information, structure and metadata in the record and to maintain its integrity, authenticity and accessibility' rather than a duty to preserve the original record. Such a change would allow TNA to apply the status of 'public record' to migrated records.

Providing guidance to records creators

The consultation also seeks to extend the influence of record-keepers to the creation phase of the record by recommending the introduction of a power to create standards for public record creation and maintenance. This power would probably be vested in the Lord Chancellor acting on the advice of the National Archivist.