Government spends £140,000 to keep ID card review secret

The Office of Government Commerce has spent at least £140,000 on legal fees to keep secret two early Gateway reviews on the national ID cards scheme.

The Office of Government Commerce has spent at least £140,000 on legal fees to keep secret two early Gateway reviews on the national ID cards scheme.

Costs will rise further if government lawyers appeal against a new order by the Information Tribunal to disclose the reviews.

On Thursday last week the Tribunal ordered - for a second time - that the reviews should be published. It gave the Office of Government Commerce 28 days to release them.

But the OGC is likely to appeal the Tribunal's decision, which means it can continue to keep the reviews secret.

If the OGC were to lose any High Court appeal, it could take the case to the Law Lords. If it lost that too, ministers could veto to stop the reviews being published.

The two gateway "zero" reviews in question are already more than five years old. They were assessments of the ID cards scheme in June 2003 and January 2004, and gave a view on the feasibility of the ID cards scheme long before the Identity Cards Bill received royal assent in March 2006.

The 60-page judgment of the Information Tribunal last week revealed that the reviews contained some criticisms of the ID cards scheme, but no details were given.

A spokesman for the OGC said, "The Information Tribunal has concluded that neither they nor the information commissioner believe all Gateway reviews should be disclosed. It has made clear that its decision refers only to this specific request and does not set any precedent. We are currently assessing the detail of the Information Tribunal's decision and will respond in full in due course."

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The OGC's fight for Gateway Review secrecy - how it has spent £140,000

The determination of the Office of Government Commerce to keep Gateway reviews secret can be seen from the history of the latest judgment:

January 2005 Under the Freedom of Information Act Mark Dziecielewski requests the two Gateway reviews

February 2005 OGC refuses to disclose them. It argues that candour of those whom it interviewed for the reviews would be adversely affected by disclosure. Dziecielewski requests an internal OGC review of the decision.

March 2005 Peter Fanning, then deputy chief executive of the OGC rejects the appeal. The Gateway reviews remain confidential.

July 2006 The information commissioner orders the OGC to disclose the reviews. The commissioner says that those writing the reviews, and being interviewed for them, would not cease to perform their public duty properly on the grounds that the reviews would be disclosed.

August 2006 The OGC appeals to the Information Tribunal. The Gateway reviews remain confidential.

May 2007 The Tribunal rejects the OGC's appeal and confirms the decision of the information commissioner that the gateway reviews be disclosed. The Tribunal finds that the grave consequences which the OGC's chief lawyer, Robin Tam, maintains would result from even the remotest possibility that reports would be disclosed, are "overstated". The Tribunal doesn't believe the floodgates will open if the two reviews on ID cards are published, because each request under the Freedom of Information Act must be considered on its merits.

May 2007 The OGC appeals to the High Court.

April 2008 The High Court sends the case back to the Information Tribunal, and orders the case to be heard by a separate panel at the Tribunal. The OGC had cited the 1689 Bill of Rights in a set of arguments designed to disparage the decision of the Information Tribunal.

February 2009 A new panel of the Information Tribunal orders that the gateway reviews are published. It reaches similar conclusions to the first, entirely separate, Information Tribunal. The OGC had argued at length for continued confidentiality of the reviews - but gave little recognition to the Freedom of Information Act in its arguments, the Tribunal found. The Tribunal concluded that the public interest is served by "knowing how a project has bee implemented and is being implemented". Disclosure of the two reviews would "undoubtedly make an important contribution to the debate" over ID cards.

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