Government lawyers this week began a legal battle to prevent the publication of confidential reports into the feasibility of the £5.4bn ID cards programme.
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The Office of Government Commerce, a Treasury agency, is pitting itself against the information commissioner in a five-day hearing that will determine whether it has the right to withhold the reports from public scrutiny.
The case, being conducted at the Information Tribunal in London, could set a legal precedent that would force government departments to routinely publish Gateway reviews into the progress and potential risks of public IT projects.
The OGC has hired a team of lawyers to fight an order from information commissioner Richard Thomas to publish a Gateway review which assesses the business case for the ID cards programme.
As part of its case, the OGC accuses Thomas of "failing to live in the real world". The department claims that Thomas has failed to understand the need for civil servants to be able to offer frank advice to reviewers without fear that their views could become public.
But the information commissioner argues that this approach is "far too restrictive", saying there is no reason for Gateway reviews to be treated as wholly exempt from publication.
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