Publication of independent reviews into the government's ID cards project would set a precedent that would lead to open confrontation between government departments, a freedom of information tribunal heard last week.
Peter Gershon, the former civil servant responsible for introducing Gateway reviews of government IT projects, said that publication of reports into the ID cards programme would seriously undermine the confidentiality essential to the success of the Gateway review scheme.
Gershon, former head of the Office of Government Commerce, said that any publication of adverse comments in reports would provoke a backlash from the government department under scrutiny.
"They will say 'we will go public and make it clear we don't agree with the report,'" he said. "The whole department will muster its defences and resources, so it becomes public that we don't agree with it."
Giving evidence during a four-day hearing which will decide whether the government should release Gateway reviews into the business case for ID cards, Gershon said the government could either be open or have an effective scrutiny process - but not both.
Gateway reviews offered a safe space for government officials to speak candidly and unguardedly, said Gershon, and this trust would be seriously undermined if officials thought their views could become public.
The information commissioner, Richard Thomas, has already ruled that the reports should be disclosed. The government's data watchdog is using the hearing to argue that there should be no blanket exemption for Gateway reviews under the Freedom of Information Act.
The tribunal heard that civil servants were already protected by anonymity in Gateway reports, because any views reported were not attributed to individuals.
Tim Pitt Payne, barrister for the information commissioner, suggested that civil servants were more likely to be worried about how their comments might affect their careers when they were read by managers than the risk of a report becoming public.
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