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Memento : Issue 31
24 NATIONAL ARCHIVES OF AUSTRALIA Records as evidence Recent high-profile inquiries and court cases have highlighted the need for good records management. There are some key actions organisations can take to enable a positive and constructive response the day their records are called for as evidence. In recent years there have been several inquiries, investigations and audits where records of key business decisions and activities were central to investigations. In many cases, records have not existed where they may have reasonably been expected. In other cases, the records have been difficult to find. These cases have highlighted the important role of records as evidence. Records provide evidence of what an activity was about, when it occurred, how it was carried out, and who was involved. How can organisations manage their records effectively? Organisations must create the right records, keep them in the right places, and make sure they remain available over time to support business needs. For records to have value as evidence, particularly in a court of law, the manner in which they are kept is important. This is especially true for digital records. A system that holds digital records needs to capture important contextual information about the records. In the case of email, for example, the system should show who sent it, when, and to whom. Records within a recordkeeping system should have integrity, be protected from unauthorised access, and be accessible over time. The wider digital environment has evolved in a rather haphazard way over the past 20 years. Systems development and implementation has often led to very complex operating environments. Organisations therefore need dedicated resources and strategies to manage information including reports, emails and records created within structured databases, such as financial transactions and client information. Like all organisations, government agencies need to recognise the importance of recordkeeping to their business. They should give priority to creating a culture, work practices and systems that support sound recordkeeping and records management. That’s where the National Archives comes in. We work with government agencies to help implement recordkeeping practices that support efficient business activities, meet legislative requirements, and are accountable to the government and the public. Effective recordkeeping will ensure that records are available as evidence of the past, into the future. The National Archives has recently updated its guidelines for using records as evidence. For more information, visit www.naa.gov.au/recordkeeping/overview/ evidence/records.html. Melissa Sharkey