Appraisal and sentencing

Action 14 of the Building trust in the public record policy specifies that ‘retain as national archives’ information assets must be transferred to the care of the National Archives as soon as practicable, or within 15 years of creation. This is required by the Archives Act 1983.

The policy also recommends sentencing information assets regularly and promptly destroying those of temporary value when no longer needed. This must be done in accordance with relevant records authorities (action 17).

Regularly completing appraisal and sentencing enables your agency to legally and accountably destroy information assets (records, information and data) that have reached their minimum retention period. It also enables transfer of your agency’s ‘retain as national archives’ information assets to the National Archives.

Appraisal and sentencing

Appraisal is the process of evaluating your agency’s business functions and activities to identify records that need to be created or captured.

This includes identifying information assets that should be preserved and transferred to the National Archives. Our selection principles guide these decisions.

The appraisal process also determines when temporary information can legally and accountably be destroyed. Appraisal decisions are documented in records authorities.

Sentencing is the process of matching your agency’s information to a relevant records authority to establish the value of information and the minimum period it must be kept for.

How long Australian Government information must be kept

The National Archives collaborates with Australian Government agencies to determine minimum retention periods and disposal requirements for their information assets.

Records authorities set out the minimum retention periods that information must be kept for.

Minimum retention periods are based on:

  • the business the information relates to
  • legislative requirements
  • its value as evidence of government activity
  • its value as a community resource
  • stakeholder expectations.

When sentenced information assets reach their minimum retention period and are no longer needed to support your agency’s business, they can be legally destroyed or transferred.

Why sentence information

Your agency creates digital information assets. It will also likely hold analogue and paper-based records that need to be accountably managed.

Regularly sentencing information assets ensures your agency:

  • legally and accountably destroys information that has reached its minimum retention period
  • reduces costs associated with managing information, including storage, migration, security and access
  • reduces the volume of information your agency holds. This improves the ability to find and access information assets when needed.

Benefits of regularly sentencing information for your agency include:

  • maintaining awareness of the information held
  • responding quickly to discovery orders and freedom of information requests
  • reducing risk and liability from holding information which could otherwise be destroyed
  • reducing legacy holdings and paper stockpiles to help meet the requirements of the Building trust in the public record policy
  • identifying and managing high-value information assets including ‘retain as national archives’ until they are transferred to the care of the National Archives for future preservation and access.

Using records authorities to sentence information

There are different records authorities available for your agency to use for sentencing.

Using them is essential to:

  • assess the value of your agency’s information
  • decide how long it must be retained
  • demonstrate that it has been disposed of legally.

Records authorities common to Australian Government agencies include agency-specific and general.

Agency-specific records authorities

Your agency’s own records authority contains a detailed analysis of your agency’s core business and the information it creates.

General records authorities

Your agency can also use general records authorities to sentence business information common to many Australian Government agencies.

The Administrative Functions Disposal Authority (AFDA Express Version 2) is a general records authority that sets out disposal requirements for the functions most agencies perform, including:

  • financial management
  • procurement
  • technology and information management
  • work health and safety.

Information not covered by a current records authority

Your agency cannot sentence, destroy or transfer business information if it is not covered by a current records authority. You must keep this information until it is covered by a records authority and can be sentenced.

Some low-value and short-term information that is not needed to document your agency’s business may be accountably destroyed without formal permission from the National Archives. This must be done in accordance with a normal administrative practice process (NAP).

Help with sentencing

Sentencing worksheet 

Our sentencing worksheet can help you sentence your agency's records. 

Contact us

For further help and advice, contact the Agency Service Centre.