Recently in Her Majesty's Treasury Category

The Office of Government Commerce have emailed to say that the High Court date for their appeal against the decision of the Information Tribunal ordering the full publication of the Home Office Identity Cards Programme early Gateway Review reports, has now been brought forward by a day, and is set to start a 3 day hearing this coming for Monday 3rd March 2008 at 10:00am 10:30am , at the Royal Courts of Justice, in the Strand, (Court number still to be decided).


UPDATE: from the Daily Cause List:


ADMINISTRATIVE COURT

[...]

COURT 2

Before MR JUSTICE STANLEY BURNTON

Monday 3 March, 2008

At half past 10

FOR HEARING

CO/4438/2007 Office Of Government Commerce v Information Commissioner S Office

CO/5491/2007 Office Of Government Commerce v Information Commissioner

[...]


According to the Financial Times the Office of Government Commerce, a creature of Her Majesty's Treasury, headed by Chancellor soon to be Prime Minister Gordon Brown is appealing against the Information Tribunal's decision to uphold the Information Commissioner's decision to order the OGC to publish in full, the documents requested in our Freedom of Information Act for the Stage Zero and two Pre-Stage Zero Gateway Review reports into the Home Office's controversial and hugely expensive Identity Cards Programme.

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 Section 59 Appeals from decision of Tribunal does allow for an appeal against the decision of the Information Tribunal to be heard by the High Court, but only on a point of law

59. Any party to an appeal to the Tribunal under section 57 may appeal from the decision of the Tribunal on a point of law to the appropriate court; and that court shall be-

(a) the High Court of Justice in England if the address of the public authority is in England or Wales,
(b) the Court of Session if that address is in Scotland, and
(c) the High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland if that address is in Northern Ireland.

We are mystified as to what "points of law" OGC can possibly argue before the High Court.

How much money in legal fees will all these pointless appeals end up costing the taxpayers ?

Gordon Brown is already reneging on his recent promises about "open government" or public transparency and accountability. He does not have to wait to take over as Prime Minister, he could have ordered the documents to be released disclosed already, since the OGC is directly under his control as Chancellor of the Exchequer. It seems unlikely that such an infamous micro-manager, would not be fully aware of the OGC decision to waste further public money on legal costs in this matter.

We are awaiting details of any future High Court dates for this case, which could possibly be done via written submissions without a formal hearing. Hopefully the High Court will decide to reject the OGC appeal.

We have had a reply, just within the 20 working days statutory limit to our FOIA request for the Partial Regulatory Impact Assessment, dealing with the United Nations Measures Order 2006, which was mentioned as being available on the HM Treasury website, but which plainly was not.

This lengthy and complicated set of far reaching powers, backed up with criminal penalties, are to enforce "freezing" of allegedly terrorist financial assets.

Since there has been no debate or scrutiny in Parliament about these extended bureaucratic red tape powers, one would have hoped that the Partial Regulatory Impact Assessment might have made things clearer.

The RIA is available on the OPSI website and you can access it via the following link.

http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/em2006/uksiem_20062657_en.pdf

According to the (,pdf) meta data, this was created by the Privy Council on 11th October 2006, so why it has taken the Treasury so long to make it available is a mystery.

However, the document admits that there has been no actual consultation with anybody, and it makes unsubstantiated claims that there will be no impact or cost to , for example, small businesses, despite the wording being so catch-all as to encompass every "person" in the United Kingdom, both individuals and corporate entities.

We look forward to the other two, probably duplicated word for word, Partial Regulatory impact Assessments, for the other two, almost identical and overlapping United Nations Measures Orders, which mention the Taliban and AL Qaida (even though everyone covered under these financial sanctions will already be under the first United Nations Measures Order 2006), and North Korea, which is also a duplication of the other two Orders, both of which already automatically include anyone sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council anyway.

Confused ? Surely not, after all Gordon Brown has promised a "25% cut in red tape", some time in the future.

Why it took a formal Freedom of Information Act request to get sight of a document which was publicly promised to already have been published on-line in October, and which contains so little meaningful or believable detail, is a mystery to us.

The FOIA reply from the Treasury via email, as an attached (,pdf) file, with a (.tif) image scan of the Partial RIA:

When Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown made his speech to Chatham House, about "terrorist finance" etc. he alluded to new measures to help with "freezing terrorist assets". These regulations are very wide ranging, and unlimited by any Statutory Code of Practice.

The Secondary Legislation was rubber stamped through an Order in Council i.e. neither of the Houses of Parliament even got to debate these regulations, which are as long and complicated as many full Acts of Parliament:

Statutory Instrument 2006 No. 2657
The Terrorism (United Nations Measures) Order 2006

http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2006/20062657.htm



[...]

Made 10th October 2006
Laid before Parliament 11th October 2006
Coming into force 12th October 2006

[...]
At the Court at Buckingham Palace, the 10th day of October 2006

Present,

The Queen's Most Excellent Majesty in Council

[...]

i.e. The Privy Council

However, according to the Explanatory Notes, the Partial Regulatory Impact Assessment should already have been published:

"A partial regulatory impact assessment of the effect that this instrument will have on the costs of business may be attained [sic] from the Asset Freezing Unit of the Financial Crime Team, HM Treasury, 1 Horse Guards Road, London SW1A 2HQ and is also available on HM Treasury's website (www.hm-treasury.gov.uk). A copy of the regulatory impact assessment has been placed in the libraries of both Houses of Parliament."

Except, of course, that there is no such thing to be found on the Treasury website, and similarly, nothing on the HMSO Official Documents website.

Below is our FOIA request, after having tried email and phone calls to the Treasury.

HM Treasury have replied, exactly within the statutory 20 working days, to our FOIA request about the RIPA Part III consultation.

Essentially they have had no contact with the Home Office over this issue.

Strangely, they mention the "Freedom of Information Act 2003" - presumably a typo.

Has the Home Office consulted the Deprtment for trade and Industry and with Her Majesty's Treasury over their planned change in the legal definition of an "electronic signature" ?

We rather suspect not, but perhaps our FOIA requests below will prompt the various officials to actually talk with each other, before they inflict , by casting legal doubt on one of the fundamentals of e-commerce and internet banking and contract law etc.

All this FOIA stuff is very new, so here is our first attempt at getting the Information Commissioner to review an FOIA request, in this case the saga of the Office of Government Commerce Gateway Reviews of the Home Office Identity Cards Programme.

You can only complain to the Information Commissioner once the public authoritiy's internal review process has been exhausted.

Following the feeble disclosure from the Office of Government Commerce regarding our FOIA request for the now out of date Gateway Reviews of the Home Office's Identity Cards Programme, we asked for an internal review.

As feared, this has not elicited any more information about the Identity Cards Programme.

All the arguements used about why it is allegedly not in the public interest to disclose these Gateway Reviews, are exactly what the Civil Service marshalled against the whole concept of Freedom of Information. Where is the alleged "culture change" that the years of preparation and training for the Freedom of Information Act should have produced ?

Is "Sir Humphrey Appleby" still in charge ?

Has this FOIA request been deliberately delayed by the politicians and spin doctors, for the full statutory 20 working days, followed by a further 15 working days for "public interest balancing", followed by another month of "internal review", simply to avoid producing any answers which might have informed the debates during the various stages of the controversial Identity Cards Bill ?

How can it be that the high level details of actual project objectivesa and risks, for the Identity Cards Programme, a multi-billion pound project, with massive implications for the whole relationship between the State and the Citizen will not emerge until the project disaster that many people fear, has already wasted our money, and compromised both our civil liberties and national security ?

The Criminal Records Bureau disaster happened because the basic assumptions of how the public would use the service were wrong i.e. the assumption was individual disclosure applications via a web page, in real life there were multiple, bulk disclosure requests via post and by phone.

Why doesn't the Government publish these so called Gateway Reviews, without personally identifying any of the civil servants and consultants, only their conclusions and recommendations ?

Having exhausted the internal appeal process, only now is it possible to submit this FOIA request to the Information Commissioner for a ruling.

Presumably the "Department for Constitutional Affairs Clearing House for Freedom of Information Act enquiries" mentioned in the reply below, is the "secret spin unit" which this article in The Independent refers to ?

Internal Review reply:

One might have hoped that Paul Boateng, now that it has been announced that he is going to be the new High Commissioner (equivalent to Ambassador) to South Africa, would have properly complied with the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act and released some details abou the Office for Government Commerce Gateway Reviews of the Identity cards scheme.

However he is not even bothering to answer Parliamentary Questions on the matter, giving an excuse that could have been written by Sir Humphrey Appleby himself:

"Written answers
Wednesday, 16 March 2005
Treasury
Identity Cards

Mark Oaten Mark Oaten (Winchester, LDem)

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what traffic light status was awarded to the identity cards scheme by the Office of Government Commerce at the Gateway Review 1 stage.

Paul Boateng (Brent South, Lab) holding answer 25 February 2005

The ID Cards programme has not yet undergone a Gate 1 Review. It has, however, undergone two OGC Gate 0 Reviews, in June 2003 and January 2004 respectively. The traffic light status awarded by these reviews is exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 as disclosure would be likely to prejudice both the ability of OGC to examine the effectiveness, efficiency and economy with which other Government Departments exercise their functions and also the formulation and development of Government policy. I believe the public interest in disclosure of such information is outweighed by the public interest in non-disclosure"

We have had a letter, from the Office for National Statistics, dated and postmarked 7th February 2005, delivered today 9th February, i.e. 13 working days since our FOIA request to the Office for National Statistics regarding the Citizen Information Project.

Given the paucity of public information on the Citizen Information Project, who knew that there are over 5000 documents related to it ?

Any suggestions as to how we can narrow down the request would be appreciated.

The letter:

About this blog

This United Kingdom based blog has been spawned from Spy Blog, and is meant to provide a place to track our Freedom of Information Act 2000 requests to United Kingdom Government and other Public Authorities.

If you have suggestions for other FOIA requests,  bearing in mind the large list of exemptions, then email them to us, or use the comments facility on this blog, and we will see  what we can do, without you yourself having to come under the direct scrutiny of  "Sir Humphrey Appleby" or his minions.

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