Coming in from the cold… of a disposal freeze

Sometimes when something serious happens, like a commission of inquiry or court case, a disposal freeze is issued to prevent the disposal of any records that might be needed for the serious thing.

A disposal freeze can be issued by the State Archivist, especially if it’s really serious and applies to lots of agencies, or it can be internally issued by your CEO, say if your agency is involved in legal action and wants to make sure records relating to the case aren’t destroyed.

Depending on the situation, the State Archivist might not issue a disposal freeze but instead provide some advice or send a letter or something similar to agencies affected by the situation. This advice may suggest an internal disposal freeze might be needed.

You can find a lot of advice about disposal freezes on our website, but sometimes you just need to see how it works in practice to get your head around it.

Example: internal disposal freeze for multiple agencies

A few years ago there was a commission of inquiry about children and their safety. Fred, the Director of Information Management Services at the Lamingtown Department of Education, spoke to his CEO about it and they decided to issue a disposal freeze for all schools in the Lamingtown region and their own records too.

They decided a freeze was the best way to prevent the disposal of records that may have been needed for the commission of inquiry.

To make sure all relevant records were kept, they communicated the freeze to all relevant business areas in their agency, highlighting the various applications and business systems that contained the records impacted.

They also spoke to the IT team to make sure these records weren’t involved in any current migration or decommissioning projects.

Example: internal disposal freeze for one agency

Last year, Lamingtown Shire Council was involved in a legal dispute with one of its citizens.

We won’t go into details about the dispute itself, but needless to say Katie, the Manager of Records and Information Management, knew that the destruction of evidence was an offence under the Criminal Code Act 1899. To safeguard any records that might be needed for the upcoming legal proceedings, she recommended the council’s CEO issue an internal disposal freeze for said records.

Example: when to lift a freeze

Let’s go back to Fred and his disposal freeze for the school records.

The commission of inquiry took a couple of years to go through all of the records and evidence, but once it had and finalised its report and recommendations, there was no more need for a disposal freeze.

Once Fred’s team had gone through the report and recommendations from the commission, he spoke to his CEO about it and they decided to lift the freeze they’d issued when the inquiry had started.

Fred let the schools know that the freeze had been lifted. While the schools did have to resentence the records, especially as some were now more significant than they had been before, some of the records under the freeze could now be destroyed.

Example: State Archivist issued freeze

Poor Fred has had quite a few freezes to deal with.

Back in 2012 he also had a State Archivist issued disposal freeze to deal with. The freeze was issued for some building maintenance records created by various agencies, including the Lamingtown Department of Education.

The freeze was issued after the Building Act was amended and the legal requirements around how long these records needed to be kept changed.

The State Archivist decided to issue a disposal freeze for the records to ensure they weren’t destroyed before the retention period in the relevant schedule could be updated. An update was sent to all agencies, including Fred’s, about the freeze. Fred immediately updated his recordkeeping system to reflect the change.

Once the team at State Archives had done their appraisal work and issued an update to the schedule with the new retention period, the State Archivist revoked the freeze. Once again, State Archives sent out an update to all agencies to let them know the record classes had been updated and that the freeze had been revoked.

Fred once again updated his system to show the freeze had been revoked, and then resentenced the affected records against the new record classes.

More information

You can find more information about disposal freezes and records needed for legal proceedings or RTI requests on the website.

Remember, you can contact us via email, telephone, blog, Twitter.

Also, just like in the movies, all names, characters, places, and (most) incidents portrayed in this blog post are fictitious and are not based on real people or incidents (for the most part).

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