National Records of Scotland

Letters Patent to the Public Records (Scotland) Bill 2011

In response to the 2007 Historical Abuse Systemic Review (Shaw Report), which identified systematic failings in public recordkeeping, Scottish Ministers asked the Keeper of the Records of Scotland to undertake a review of public records legislation. This review led to the development of The Public Records (Scotland) Bill which was introduced to the Scottish Parliament in October 2010, and became law in April 2011.

For the first time, the Act placed a statutory responsibility on named public authorities in Scotland, which includes local authorities, the NHS, police and courts as well as the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament to prepare and implement a records management plan which sets out the arrangements in place to manage their public records and provisions for the preservation of their records of enduring value.

Good recordkeeping is an essential part of any democratic and accountable society. Access to authoritative, reliable and robust records and archives not only are essential for effective public service delivery, but are vital to protect the rights of the citizen and to hold authority to account.

Protecting the rights of Scotland’s citizens is central to this Act. Shaw was invited by Scottish Ministers to review the regulatory framework for looked after children in Scotland’s care sector between 1950-1999. They did this in light of claims of abuse suffered by those who relied on the care service. He identified significant failures including record keeping failures. He recorded how his own investigations were hampered by poor record keeping practices across the public sector and he reported on how thousands of care records were created but then destroyed, or lost, due to inadequacies in the law, poor records management and a general lack of interest and care.

In particular, Shaw demonstrated how these record keeping failings denied former residents access to their own vital records, thereby denying them knowledge of their formative years and robbing them of their right to access essential information created about and for them. The Act seeks to ensure this does not happen again. Since its implementation in 2013, the Act has been instrumental in raising the profile of records management across the public sector in Scotland.  Over 250 Records Management Plans have been scrutinised and agreed by the Keeper.

There is now an ongoing conversation between the Keeper of the Records of Scotland and all those authorities named under the Act. Guidance and practical solutions are co-produced and learning is shared. Stakeholders are embracing the opportunity the Act offers to promote their profession and win resources. The Act is also reaching out from the Scottish public sector to have an impact further afield within the UK and internationally.

The provisions of this Act, underpin the importance, and democratic necessity of good recordkeeping, which is required to ensure records are safely managed into permanent preservation for the public to access in our Scottish archives.