Appraisal and sentencing

Appraisal and sentencing

Appraisal is the process of evaluating your agency’s business functions and activities to identify information assets 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 occurs after appraisal and is the process of matching your agency’s information to a relevant records authority to establish the value of information and for how long it must be kept.

Sentencing principles, steps and outcomes are generally format-neutral and all-encompassing. However, sentencing techniques may differ between formats.

See Types of information for further detail on formats.

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).

Why sentence information

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.

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

Regularly sentencing information assets ensures that your agency:

  • legally and accountably destroys information that has reached its minimum retention period and has no ongoing value
  • 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.

When to sentence

Sentencing can occur manually or (if your agency sentences in a controlled and compliant software application) automatically.

On creation

  • in an electronic document and records management system (EDRMS) or other business system that automatically assigns a disposal trigger date when it sentences information – this is based on its business activity and corresponding disposal action
  • on the limited occasions where an agency creates physical information assets such as files, where it is good practice to set up a review date upon creation – this would be based on the applicable disposal action, after classifying and titling
  • when assigning disposal classes at business system level for entire datasets or identifying datasets and supporting elements across multiple systems.

After creation

  • with planned, regular sentencing projects to determine retention periods of unsentenced information assets
  • as ad hoc sentencing projects, to supplement regular sentencing projects
  • on occasions where information assets need to be resentenced (e.g. due to legal proceedings or where subsequent appraisal identifies the need for a longer retention period)
  • upon review, when there are changes to disposal requirements (e.g. a freeze on destruction implemented since initial sentencing).

    You can make a risk-based decision on how to review disposal decisions. Reviews can also assist on occasions where the disposal classes assigned on creation do not reflect the value of the content or where the significance of the content is not apparent at the time of creation.

Roles and responsibilities

Your agency's information governance documentation (e.g. information management policy) should identify the roles and responsibilities for:

  • overseeing and executing sentencing processes
  • authorising and approving the disposal of information assets in any format and
  • carrying out the disposal action (destroy or arrange transfer to the National Archives).

This work should be done by the area with the appropriate delegation to authorise disposal actions, e.g. your Information Management unit, in consultation with the relevant business owner.

See Information disposal for more details.

Using records authorities

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

You will use records authorities 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 that apply to Australian Government agencies include agency-specific and general.

Agency-specific records authorities

Your agency's own records authority or records authorities will contain a detailed analysis of your agency’s core business and the information it creates.

If your agency doesn't have a records authority covering its core business, there is information about the records authority development process available.

General records authorities

Your agency can embark on a sentencing project for its administrative activities, using general records authorities issued by the National Archives, 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 as part of usual administrative business, 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. This includes your agency's core business, which is the primary area of your agency's business operations (e.g. information kept by Defence on military personnel). You cannot apply general records authorities such as AFDA Express Version 2 to information assets of your agency's core business.

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).

Tools and support

Sentencing worksheet

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

Contact us

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