1st May 2021
The Post Office scandal is being described fairly as one of the most widespread miscarriages of justice in legal history.
One of the fundamental problems that led to this scandal was non-disclosure.
The managers (and presumably the lawyers) knew information about the reliability of their Horizon software but did not disclose it.
Had that information been disclosed then (depending on the timing of the disclosure) prosecutions would not have taken place, or defendants would have been found not guilty, or convictions could have been more speedily appealed.
And so, given this fundamental problem of non-disclosure, it is remarkable that the government’s response is an inquiry that cannot compel the disclosure of evidence.
Just think about it.
And if you read through the documents on the page, what is said is fine as far as it goes.
But it does not go far enough.
For example, one of the terms of reference is expressly in respect of obtaining information:
‘[to b]uild upon the findings of Mr Justice Fraser, by obtaining all available relevant evidence from Post Office Ltd, Fujitsu and BEIS to establish a clear account of the implementation and failings of Horizon over its lifecycle’.
Yet, as where there is blame there will be claims, the various entities mentioned will have reason to not disclose anything which could lead to civil or even criminal liability.
They will have engaged lawyers to advise them on their obligations in respect of the disclosure of information for the inquiry – and that advice would give them legal cover to refusals to share information.
And what goes for documentary evidence goes to witness evidence too, as this tweeter well observes:
Paula Vennells has proved that if someone in a powerful publicly-funded position doesn't want to answer serious questions, they don't have to. https://t.co/l27xfJNKuH— Timariot Chariot (@mariotb) April 30, 2021
What we therefore face is one problem that was caused by non-disclosure being followed by another problem caused by a different type of non-disclosure.
There is no good reason why the inquiry into the Post Office scandal does not have statutory powers to compel evidence.
And, given that non-disclosure was at the heart of the miscarriages of justice, every good reason why it should.
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