The BBC reports that “ministers have been ordered to publish two reviews into the controversial ID Cards scheme after a four-year Freedom of Information Battle”.
This is true. But the BBC doesn’t mention that the two “gateway reviews” in question, on the ID Cards scheme, may never be published.
The Office of Government Commerce, which runs the gateway review scheme, is determined to keep them secret and has the means to do so. Its punctilious arguments for continued secrecy have the full backing of ministers. The OGC has so far :
– Rejected a freedom of information request for the two gateway reviews to be published
– Rejected an appeal by the FOI applicant to publish the two reviews
– Appealed against a ruling of the Information Commissioner that the reviews be published
– Appealed against a ruling by the Information Tribunal that the reviews be published
The OGC instructed Jonathan Swift, one of the two most senior barristers who act for the government in civil law matters, to argue in the High Court for the reviews to be kept secret.
And when the High Court sent the case back to a newly-constituted Information Tribunal, the OGC, instead of giving up, spent more public money on gathering new witnesses and revamping its legal case.
The Information Tribunal has now ordered – for a second time – that the reviews be published in a ruling published on 1 9 February 2009. Its 60-page judgment accepts that the case may go further.
Indeed it’s likely the Office of Government Commerce will appeal once more to the High Court. So more public money – £140,000 so far – will be used to keep secret reviews that not even IT suppliers and IT teams working on the project within government have a right to read. If the High Court orders that the reviews are published, the OGC could appeal to the Law Lords.
By then the initial gateway reviews on ID Cards could be seven or seven years old. If the Law Lords order the OGC to publish, the government can wheel out a ministerial veto. That government could be a Tory one – for the Tories have made no commitment to publish gateway reviews.
In a press release on 1 January 2005, the Department for Constitutional Affairs announced that the Freedom of Information had come into effect that day. Said the headline: “Freedom of information means open government, and effective government”. The release said:
“People have a right to information about the way decisions are taken. and [the way] public money is spent … Good Government is open Government, and good Government is effective Government.”
The FOI legislation, added the release, heralds for all public authorities an important change of culture towards official information.
But the culture of the OGC is still stuck in the 18th century – it’s using the same arguments against publication that ministers used to ban reporting of Parliamentary proceedings: that disclosure would:
– inhibit candour and debate
– cause arguments to be miscontrued and truncated.
The name “Office of Government Commerce” is apt – it has an 18th century ring about it.
Information Tribunal – Judgment over ID Cards gateway reviews – February 2009
ID Card reviews “to be published” – BBC online
OGC uses 1689 Bill of Rights to keep ID Cards gateway reviews secret – IT Projects blog
The legal costs of fighting publication of gateway reviews – Spy blog
OGC must publish IC Card reviews – Kable