Dunblane Inquiry: Public Disclosure

House of Lords written question – answered on 9th November 2004.

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Photo of Lord Lester of Herne Hill Lord Lester of Herne Hill Liberal Democrat

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Written Answer by the Lord Evans of Temple Guiting on 25 October (WA 111), which department is the depositing department responsible for giving or withholding permission to make available documents submitted to the Cullen inquiry into the Dunblane tragedy; and when that department will decide on the closure period.

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip

This is a matter for the Scottish Executive.

The Public Records (Scotland) Act 1937 makes provision for the preservation, care and custody of the public records of Scotland. There is not, however, any statutory basis for closure of records created by Scottish public bodies.

By contrast, in England and Wales the Public Records Act 1958 (as amended by the Public Records Act 1967) sets a statutory "closure period" of 30 years after which records must, with limited exceptions, be made available to the public. The 1937 Act does not impose similar obligations on Scottish Executive departments, but in practice those procedures are followed in Scotland.

The criteria for closures longer than 30 years were defined in a White Paper on open government published in 1993 (Cm 2290), which stated that it is for the department responsible for depositing the material to decide on the closure period.

Documents containing information about individuals, whose disclosure would cause either substantial distress, or endangerment from a third party to persons affected by disclosure or their descendants can be subject to a variable closure period of between 40 and 100 years.

At the conclusion of Lord Cullen's inquiry, the papers were lodged with the then Scottish Record Office. As is normal practice, the closure periods were identified by the SRO, in consultation with the secretary to the inquiry and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. In light of the obvious sensitivities in relation to the information about children and alleged offences against them the productions were closed for 100 years. This closure was in accordance with the government guidelines published in the White Paper, Open Government, Cm 2290 (1993), and Lord Cullen was content with these arrangements.

However, subsequently the Lord Advocate decided that the material from the Dunblane inquiry should be catalogued by staff at the National Archives of Scotland in a way which did not lead to the identification of children. The cataloguing of the productions has recently been completed. Officials from the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service are currently reviewing this material and considering what information is suitable for release either in its entirety or in an edited format. However, the sensitive nature of the information contained in some of the material will obviously prevent its release before the end of the 100-year closure period.

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