Dozens of former sub-postmasters convicted on the basis of evidence from the Post Office Horizon system are now almost certain to have their convictions quashed.
The Post Office had to notify formally by 2 October [today] whether it was opposing 47 convictions of former sub-postmasters whose cases were referred to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission.
This morning solicitors have confirmed that, up until the time of writing, none of the 47 cases is being opposed. It is therefore almost certain the convictions will be quashed.
Hudgell Solicitors, which is acting for 33 of he 47 cases, said on Twitter,
“We can confirm the Post Office has conceded appeals by former sub-postmasters to overturn convictions linked to the Horizon scandal.”
Other convicted former sub-postmistresses have congratulated Aria Grace Law which represented them in the appeal applications.
Although the sub-postmaster cases referred to the Court of Appeal were known to have been manifestly unsafe convictions, the Post Office’s decision not to contest them has come as a surprise to some given its approach in the High Court last year during litigation over the Horizon system.
More than 550 sub-postmasters had sued the Post Office for wrongly blaming them over Horizon errors and bugs. The Post Office hired four QCs and two firms of solicitors to fight the sub-postmasters and defend the Horizon system. At one point it applied to have the judge removed. When clearly losing the case, the Post Office reached a settlement. It paid a £57.75m to the former sub-postmasters but made it clear in the settlement terms that it was not agreeing to any of the money going to convicted sub-postmasters. Most of the settlement money went, in any case, in litigation-related costs.
When convictions are overturned, sub-postmasters are likely to consider legal action for compensation, having unnecessarily spent time in prison or doing community service. It has also been difficult for them to find work with criminal convictions. In addition, they have not received back from the Post Office money they paid from their own pockets to cover Horizon-related shortfalls.
Postal affairs minister Paul Scully has announced an “inquiry” into the Horizon affair but it is being dismissed as a “whitewash” and is being boycotted by two of the main parties in the litigation: the Justice for Sub-postmasters Alliance and forensic accountants Second Sight which investigated Horizon cases between 2012 and 2015 and found many of the system weaknesses that, during the later litigation, the Post Office denied existed. The High Court judge in the litigation Mr Justice Fraser found that Horizon had numerous bugs and errors that had caused numerous shortfalls.
His judgments vindicated Second Sight’s much earlier findings and triggered the Criminal Cases Review Commission’s referrals to the Court of Appeal.
When the convictions are formally quashed, there are likely to be calls for a Parliamentary investigation into what is being described as the widest miscarriage of justice in England’s legal history. Hundreds of sub-postmasters might have been wrongly convicted.
The current inquiry is non-statutory, cannot require witnesses to give evidence on oath, cannot require the attendance of witnesses, cannot cross-examine witnesses and the most controversial aspects of the Horizon scandal – wrongful prosecutions – are excluded from the terms of reference. It is not even clear if hearings will be in public or whether it will call any witnesses. It is instead taking evidence from the Post Office and Horizon supplier Fujitsu. Mr Justice Fraser last year criticised the Post Office and Fujitsu’s approach to openness and the truth during the litigation.
The narrow terms of reference for the government inquiry into Horizon appear to confirm comments to journalist Nick Wallis that the civil service does not want any inquiry into Horizon. Wallis said that a government source told him: “the officials weren’t happy… They didn’t want a review, they didn’t want an inquiry or anything. They wanted it all to go away.”
The apparent contradiction between a “whitewash” government inquiry and the almost certain quashing of dozens of convictions that form no part of the inquiry, mean that the Post Office IT scandal is set to enter a new phase rather than go away.
Update: (2 October pm)
Nick Wallis reports that the Post Office is to contest three of the 47 cases. Details of why it opposes an overturning of the three convictions are awaited, particularly as the Criminal Cases Review Commission would not have referred any of the cases to the Court of Appeal without having strong grounds for doing so.
A small number of the 47 cases that will go to the Court of Appeal unopposed are of deceased former sub-postmasters including Julian Wilson’s This is an indication of how long the campaign for justice has been going.
Justice for sub-postmasters as criminal convictions likely to be quashed – Computer Weekly
Postmasters celebrate victory – BBC News
Whitewash inquiry branded a cynical cop-out by government – Nick Wallis’ Postofficetrial