The recently published Retention of Records Bill represents a very important measure in that it provides for the retention of the records of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, the Residential Institutions Redress Board and the Residential Institutions Redress Review Committee. I must stress that under the legislation establishing these bodies the bulk of their records would, on the dissolution of those bodies, fall to be destroyed. The Bill provides for the retention of the records, their transfer to the National Archives and their sealing and withholding from public inspection for a period of at least 75 years.
The records of the redress bodies are unlike normal departmental records in that they contain information of a deeply personal nature that was provided to the bodies in the expectation that that information would be treated as confidential and private and the relevant legislation fully reflected that expectation. Accordingly, fresh legislation is required to address the range of issues involved.
The Bill balances the right to confidentiality of all who engaged with the redress bodies with the public interest requirement to retain and eventually release the records. The legal advice available to me is that that balance can best be achieved by ensuring that all of the records are withheld from public inspection for a lengthy period and the Bill provides that that period will be at least 75 years. It is essential therefore that no access to these records be permitted for that period and accordingly, it is necessary to provide in the Bill for the dis-application of those sections of the National Archives Act 1986 that govern access to the records by individuals, government departments, etc., and related provisions.
While the National Archives Act provides for a certification process for the withholding from public inspection in certain circumstances of records that are more than 30 years old it does not provide the necessary certainty that the records will be withheld from public scrutiny for a sufficiently lengthy period.
I am satisfied, having regard to all of the circumstances, that the approach set out in the Bill is the appropriate way to proceed in relation to these historically important, extremely sensitive and unique records.