Whitehall stalls release of reports using FOI Act

The government is exploiting a feature in the Freedom of Information Act which allows it put off indefinitely the release of internal reports on the ID cards scheme and the NHS IT programme, despite rulings that they should be published.

The government is exploiting a feature in the Freedom of Information Act which allows it put off indefinitely the release of internal reports on the ID cards scheme and the NHS IT programme, despite rulings that they should be published.

Computer Weekly has learned that a High Court case over whether the independent assessments, known as Gateway reviews, on ID cards should be published, is unlikely to take place until June next year. This is nearly two years after the information commissioner ruled they should be disclosed.

If the Treasury's Office of Government Commerce loses its bid in the High Court to keep the Gateway reviews on ID cards secret, it could go to the House of Lords, which could further delay publication of the reports.

Computer Weekly has also learned that Whitehall officials have gained the approval of ministers to take a similar route on the troubled NHS National Programme for IT.

The information commissioner ruled last month that papers on a seminar at 10 Downing Street in February 2002, which was chaired by then prime minister Tony Blair, should be released. The seminar was on NHS IT and led to the launch of the NHS's National Programme for IT.

But the Cabinet Office decided last week to appeal against the information commissioner's ruling on the Downing Street papers. The appeal will go before the Information Tribunal next year and possibly to the High Court the year after.

Until any final decision is taken, which is likely to be 2009 or 2010, the Cabinet Office is entitled to keep the Downing Street papers secret. The papers are already five years old.

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