Friday 23 April 2021

Prosecutions brought by the Post Office ~ Shameful prosecution practice

The Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) Holroyde LJ, Mr Justice Picken and Mrs Justice Farbey has handed down judgment in a reference by the Criminal Cases Review Commission - R v Hamilton and others v Post Office Ltd [2021] EWCA Crime 577.  A summary of the judgment is available.

The court heard the appeals of 42 former sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses (SPMs) who, between 2003 and 2013, were convicted of crimes of dishonesty. Their employers - Post Office Ltd - was also the prosecutor. This is an example of a private prosecution but, in this instance, brought by a public body. (The current ownership of Post Office Ltd is explained in this UK government document).


but 3 of the appeals were successful. 

The convictions stand as an appalling example of shameful prosecution practice.

Solicitors Edward Fail Bradshaw and Waterson are calling for a public inquiry into the matter - Press Release: What next for those wrongly prosecuted by the Post Office?

The Press Release notes - "The successful Appeal against the private prosecutions brought by the Post Office of many innocent Sub-Post Masters and Mistresses is one of the most significant criminal cases in recent history. This level of abhorrent disclosure failures by the Post Office and a continuing abuse of process for more than ten years in cases across England and Wales is unprecedented.

It is difficult to over-state how appalling these prosecutions were; hardworking Post-Masters and Mistresses were accused of serious criminal conduct which they had not committed and was instead the consequence of a computer software system that made numerous errors and which created imbalances in daily and weekly accounts held by a local post office."

As well as calling for a statutory inquiry the Press Release also calls for "an urgent criminal investigation into the actions of those at the Post Office to consider their possible criminal culpability in these more than ten years of abuse of the court’s process.  It is not enough that only a handful of Fujitsu employees are being investigated by the Metropolitan Police. The investigation must be wider and must question financial investigators, senior management and lawyers acting on behalf of the Post Office."

Finally, the solicitors noted that the CCRC referred the cases to the Court of Appeal. 

"The CCRC provides checks and accountability in the Criminal Justice System yet the Government have cut their funds whilst permitting the Post Office to spend huge sums of public money on trying to fight the civil and criminal proceedings in their attempt to cover up their systematic failures. It is through the work of the CCRC and the legal aid lawyers who brought this appeal that this nightmare is finally ended for many innocent people.

The first wrongful Post Office prosecution commenced nearly twenty years ago with the last being as recent as six years ago.  It is time for the Government to recognise the importance and role of these lawyers who strive to maintain and restore public confidence in our Criminal Justice System. The Government needs to support the work of these lawyers who provide a fundamental role in a robust and independent Justice system, a key element of a proper functioning democracy."

Further comment and links at ICLR 26 April 2021

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