24th April 2021
Following yesterday’s important and immense criminal appeal judgment on the Post Office Horizon case (post here), I have had a look at the preceding civil judgments.
(The civil cases were when those affected sued the Post Office – the criminal appeals were challenges to the criminal conviction in prosecutions brought by the Post Office – the distinction explains why there have been two channels of litigation in this scandal.)
The first – favourable – impression is that the judge who dealt with the civil cases did a magnificent job of judging, both in terms of case management and of the substance of the case.
The key 2019 judgment is here – and it some 155 pages and 1024 paragraphs.
It is an outstanding and forensic piece of work, by a (rare) judge at ease with both technology and the law.
Paragraph 929 is a judicial classic.
The judge is a credit to the judiciary.
That civil judgment is from late 2019.
The criminal convictions were quashed yesterday.
And the wrongful convictions date back to 2003.
This means there has been a wait of, in some case, nearly twenty years for justice.
However commendable the 2019 civil judgment and the 2021 criminal appeal judgment, there is little or no room for legal self-congratulation at these delays.
Part of the delay can be explained, of course, by the Post Office seeking to contest the cases as long as possible, defending their ‘robust’ system.
Another part of the delay can be explained by the internal Post Office decisions to, in effect, cover up or ignore what happened.
But whatever fingers can be pointed elsewhere, this is a stark example of the failure of the criminal justice system – and it is a systemic failure given how many were falsely convicted.
And so a close look is needed at what, if anything, could be done to stop such injustices again – especially (as is one of my bugbears) the right and power of certain self-interested entities to bring private prosecutions.
One or two people have complained about the the legal fees in this case.
It would appear that the lawyers for those unfairly accused and convicted had an immense legal job in taking taking on and defeating a well-resourced Post Office insisting that their system was ‘robust’.
To dismantle such a case so that one could even have the material and evidence before the court that would enable Mr Justice Fraser to be able to make his judgment was an extraordinary task.
That the lawyers who did this successfully were remunerated should not be controversial.
And had the Post Office not contested the cases – and, as the court averred, insisted that the world was flat – then the costs would have been substantially less.
Sometimes lawyers can be fairly blamed for costs – but not, it would seem, in this case.
There should also be a shout out to the investigative journalist Nick Wallis, who has both covered and uncovered a good deal of the scandal – and you can support his work and buy his book here.
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