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.
According to the Information Tribunal Pending Appeals document dated 6th December 2006 (.pdf), It looks as if the Appeal hearing is now set for
12,13,14 and 16th March 2007 at Procession House London