Recently in Information Tribunal Category

The Information Tribunal, re-constituted after the previous one was overruled by the High Court, on the grounds of Parliamentary Privilege, has yet again ruled in favour of the publication of the the by now very out of date, but still important, Office of Government Commerce Gateway Reviews into the early stages of the Home Office's controversial ID cards Programme and centralised biometric database.

Information Tribunal Appeal Number: EA/2006/0068 & EA/2006/0080 Information Commissioner's Ref: FS50070196 & FS50132936 (.pdf)

JUDGMENT

The Tribunal upholds the Decision of the Information Commissioner in his Decision Notice dated 31 July 2006 and orders the disclosure of the two Gateway Reports there set out save that the names of all other parties to the said Reports, both interviewees and reviewers, be redacted and/or deleted, the said disclosure to take place within 28 days of the promulgation of this Decision.

i.e. publication by the 19th March 2009.

If the OGC does not appeal against this Judgment again, thereby wasting even more public money, given the forensic detail in which the legal issues have been examined, multiple times now,, it will be over 4 years since the initial Freedom of Information Act request.

N.B. it is what is not included in these reports, which may prove to be as interesting as what they actually do say.

Thr OGC's claim that they do not operate a blanket ban on disclosure of Gateway Reviews, is rather contradicted by the evidence of their senior witnesses, which showed that not a single Gateway Review had ever been disclosed to the public.

The Information Tribunal will have a third attempt at hearing the appeal of the the Office of Government Commerce against the Information Commissioner's Decision to order the full publication of the early Gateway Reviews of the Home Office's wretched Identity Cards Programme next Thursday 27th November 2008:

Information Tribunal Current Cases at: 06/11/2008 (.pdf)

Office of Government Commerce

30-Aug-06 FOI

FOI

FS50070196
FS50132936

Office of Government
Commerce

Part Heard

Further hearing on 27 November at Field House at 10:00am

Field House
15 Bream's Buildings
London
EC4A 1DZ

Field House location map

Our original Freedom of Information Act request for the pre-stage Zero and Stage Zero Gateway Reviews of the Home Office's Identity Cards Programme (documents which were already a year or 18 months old) made on 1st January 2005, which should have been fulfilled, no more than 20 working days later, will have taken at least 1427 days or 3 years, 10 months, 27 days

How many hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal costs will this deliberate prevarication by the bureaucracy have cost the public purse ?

Although they have not yet bothered to write to or email us, to keep us informed, it appears that the Information Tribunal is set to reconsider the Appeal by the Office of Government Commerce against the Decision Notices issues by the Information Commissioner, which demanded full disclosure and publication of the early Stage Zero Gateway Review reports and the simplistic Gateway Review Traffic Light (Red Amber Green) Status, of the controversial Home Office Identity Cards Programme.

A full three day hearing is set for Wednesday 29th October to Friday 31st October 2008 at Procession House, 110 New Bridge Street, London, EC4V 6JL (corner with Ludgate Hill).

See the latest Information Tribunal current cases (.pdf)

  Case Number     EA/2006/0068
  EA/2006/0080 
  Appellant     Office of Government Commerce 
  Date Received     30-Aug-06  
  Type     FOI  
  ICO Decision Reference     FS50070196
  FS50132936  
  Date ICO Reply Due  
  (Date Received + 21 days)  
 
  Public Authority Involved     Office of Government Commerce    
  Current Status     Full Hearing Booked  
  Hearing Details     Full hearing booked on 29, 30, 31 October 2008  
  at Procession House  

Another full three day hearing, presumably with barristers on both sides. How much public money has been wasted on suppressing our legal rights in this case ?

This new Tribunal has been forced to sit again, after the Government's Appeal to the High Court, and the scandalous intervention of the Speaker of the House of Commons to help suppress our rights under the Freedom of Information Act, by pretending that the free speech of MPs within the Palace of Westminster, under the Bill of Rights 1689, was somehow under threat, because a publicly published Select Committee Report was mentioned, but not criticised in the original Information Tribunal's Decision.

Instead of a full disclosure within the statutory "20 working days" laid down by law in the Freedom of Information Act 2000, this process now looks set to have taken at least 1400 days i.e. 3 years and 10 months .

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.

It looks as if Spy Blog has won another round in the long running attempt to get some of the background information on the Home Office's Identity Cards Programme, which should have been made public before the Identity Cards Act 2006 was debated in Parliament.

Office of Government Commerce v Information Commissioner (2 May 2007) (.pdf 104 kb) {UPDATED link to .pdf file)


Information Tribunal

Appeal Numbers:
EA/2006/0068 and 0080
Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA)

Decision Promulgated
02 May 2007

Heard at Procession House, London
On 12, 13, 14 and 16 March 2007

BEFORE
INFORMATION TRIBUNAL CHAIRMAN

John Angel
And

LAY MEMBERS
David Wilkinson and Peter Dixon

Between
OFFICE OF GOVERNMENT COMMERCE
Appellant

And

INFORMATION COMMISSIONER
Respondent

Representation:
For the Appellant: Mr Robin Tam QC
For the Respondent: Mr Timothy Pitt-Payne

Decision

The Tribunal upholds the decision notices dated 31st July 2006 and 5th October 2006, except that we find that section 33 as well as section 35 FOIA is engaged, and dismisses the appeals.

[...]

90. The Tribunal has considered all the circumstances of this case and finds that the public interest in maintaining the exemption does not outweigh the public interest in disclosure. In other words we uphold the Commissioner’s Decision Notices in this case.

[...]

Remedies

92. The Tribunal orders that the disputed information is disclosed to the complainants. However before requiring this order to be carried out we are prepared to give the parties 14 days from the date of this decision to make written submissions to us as to whether the names of the individuals listed as Reviewers and Interviewees in the disputed information should be redacted. Once we have determined this matter we will then require the OGC to disclose the information in whatever format we determine within 14 days of that determination.

John Angel
Chairman

Date 02 May 2007

A glimpse of the Information Tribunal Hearing

| 3 Comments

Yesterday, I managed to sit in on part of the Information Tribunal Hearing which was considering the appeal by the UK Government via Gordon Brown's Treasury agency, the Office of Government Commerce, against the Decision Notice by the Information Commissioner.

See this OGC Gateway Reviews of the Identity Cards Programme category archive for the lengthy saga stemming from my original Freedom of Information Act request in January 2005.

The Information Tribunal hearing sat for 4 days last week, from Monday to Friday, except for Thursday.

I managed to attend as a member of the public, for about two and a half hours on Friday afternoon, basically just to get a flavour of the proceedings, and to put some faces to the names I have seen in print and online over the last few months, since the appeal process was initiated.

We seem to slow shuffling along into the unexplored swamps of the Freedom of Information Act appeals process.

We have received a heavy packet of papers from the Information Tribunal as an "interested party" in the pending Appeal by the Office for Government Commerce against the Information Commissioner's Decision Notice in favour of disclosing the early, and now obsolete, Gateway Reviews of the Home Office's potentially disastrous Identity Cards Programme scheme.

See "Treasury hires expensive lawyers to try to overturn the Decision Notice in our favour regarding Gateway Reviews of the Identity Cards Programme"

This is all well and good, but if we do "join the appeal", it will then be held partly or totally in private, precisely to prevent us, the original Freedom of Information Act request complainant from being shown or hearing any extracts of the Gateway Review reports in question.

Both the lawyers for the Information Commissioner and the Treasury Solicitor Grainne Ross, would not object to us being joined to the Appeal, but they both point out the limited value of any possible written or oral submissions that we could make, since the Gateway Review documents would still be kept secret from us during the proceedings.

We agree with these views, and so we are resigned to having to wait whilst large sums of public money are wasted on legal fees during this Appeal, which we firmly believe should still find in our favour i.e. in favour of the public interest of full public disclosure and publication of these documents.

The other hugely frustrating thing is the it seems that the Oral hearing for the Appeal is set for a 4 day hearing not before 5th March 2007
i.e. 2 years and 3 months after the original Freedom of Information Act request

This lengthy delay, and complicated proceedings, and expensive legal fees paid for by the taxpayer, run completely counter to the supposed "open government" policy, which the Freedom of Information Act is supposed to promote.

We will write to John Angel, the Chairman of the Information Tribunal accordingly.

UPDATE:

According to the Information Tribunal Pending Appeals document dated 6th December 2006 (.pdf), It looks as if the Appeal hearing is now set for

Full hearing 12,13,14 and 16th March 2007 at Procession House London

Currently the status of the Office of Government Commerce appeal to the Information Tribunal against the Information Commiissioner's Decision Notice in our favour is:

Case No. Case name Type of appeal ICO ref Public Authority Involved Current Status Hearing time and venue Date Received by Information Tribunal
EA/2006/0068 Office of Government Commerce v The Information Commissioner FOI FS50070196 Office of Government Commerce Awaiting Chairmans directions   30/08/2006

It appears that the unlimited resoirces of the Treasury are being harnessed tot try to overturn this Decision Notice in favour of full disclosure of the reports we asked to be published in our FOIA request

Kablent reports via The Register:

Treasury fights to keep Gateway closed
'Defending integrity', apparently
By Kablenet
Published Friday 20th October 2006 09:27 GMT

The government has hired legal experts in an effort to block publication of Gateway reviews of the National Identity Card programme.

Legal representation will come from the Treasury's Solicitors department, which has had approval to bring in external legal experts and a Queen's Counsel to fight a decision by the information commissioner, Richard Thomas, that two Gateway Reviews on ID cards can be published. The use of legal experts is expected to cost between £20,000 and £50,000.

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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