Bar chair calls for private prosecutions rethink after Post Office scandal

Vineall: Role of barristers quite limited

It is time to look “very carefully” at whether those who “regarded themselves as victims” should be able to bring private prosecutions in the wake of the Post Office scandal, the chair of the Bar Council has said.

Nick Vineall KC also renewed his attack on barristers who refuse to act in “lawful but awful” cases, saying the role of barristers was to “advise our clients and represent them, but nothing more”.

Speaking at a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Legal and Constitutional Affairs on the subject of ‘Lawyers and the State’, Mr Vineall described the Post Office scandal as “one of the most serious miscarriages of justice in recent years”.

Referring to the inquiry into the scandal led by Sir Wyn Williams, Mr Vineall said he “fully expected” there would be criticisms of some of the lawyers involved, though he did not know what they would be.

“One thing that will come out was the ability of the Post Office to prosecute when it believed it was the victim of dishonest postmasters and postmistresses.

“If you believe you are the victim, how can you discharge your duties as prosecutor? I hope we will look very carefully at whether we should allow private prosecutions by those who regard themselves as victims.”

Mr Vineall said it was “extraordinary” that the Post Office decided to proceed with the prosecutions having received two separate pieces of advice from barrister Simon Clarke, who warned the Post Office in 2013 about the quality of the expert evidence it was planning to use.

The Post Office failed to disclose the advice, the existence of which was not revealed until 2020.

Earlier in the session, Mr Vineall described the role of barristers as “quite limited – to advise our clients and represent them, but nothing more”.

He wanted to stress this because “some people think that barristers should go a little further” where clients want to do something ‘lawful but awful’”.

Earlier this year, Mr Vineall clashed with barristers who signed a Declaration of Conscience, in which they promised not to represent companies in cases relating to new fossil fuel projects or prosecute members of campaign groups opposing new fossil fuel projects.

The Bar chair told the event: “The role of judgement is for judges and juries – we advise and represent. If we hold onto this, when there are thorny problems, we can deal with them.”

Mr Vineall described as “very unfortunate” the government’s attacks on ‘lefty lawyers’ earlier this year.

“We called them out and they have not repeated them in the last two to three months. Well done for that.”

Lubna Shuja, president of the Law Society, said lawyers, particularly those doing human rights and immigration work, had been “physically attacked” following the government’s attacks on them.

Ms Shuja said the attacks had “undermined the rule of law” and it was “irresponsible” of the government to name lawyers.

“We should all be proud that we have legal professionals who serve the rule of law. Undermining the independence of lawyers will have consequences for the government.”

    Readers Comments

  • David Gale says:

    If a private prosecution is pursued fraudulently, with an intention to pervert the course of justice, then that is a matter for the police. If the court lacks the expertise to identify criminal activity under its nose, that’s a matter for a review of procedural governance. Baby, bath water.

  • Craig Cox says:

    Lawyers have been physically attacked since the government noted the proclivity of sententious practitioners to incorporate their liberal weltanschauung into the legal world? Where’s the evidence of this? it’s disingenuous, but not unsurprising, for people to make such baseless claims without evidence to substantiate the same.

    It’s nothing more than fictitious story telling to deter people from calling out this ‘wokism’ that is pervading all facets of our society from a very zealous minority. But, alas, as Nietzsche noted, “folly makes the most noise”.

  • Rose Jay says:

    I put mine in this morning but i felt there was not a correct action when I submitted it, So i am resubmitting it

  • Rosemary Brocklehurst says:

    The Post Office Ltd (POL) as prosecutor had its own powers to use terrifying tactics of investigation to browbeat victims. They told Subpostmasters facing ‘illusory’ Horizon shortfalls they were “the only ones” having problems with Horizon. On the steps of the Courts , Subpostmasters were told to please guilty to false accounting or face a theft charge which carries a custodial sentence. POL did all this while holding clear information that showed them Horizon had multiple bugs, and relied on Fujitsu to provide false evidence in court, while also taking instruction from Government of the day and its civil servant stakeholder in UK Fovernment Investments, who wholly own the Post Office. 3000 investigations and suspensions.700 convictions. 91 so far overturned. No one can claim compensation who has not yet had conviction overturned. Could take years for that. Many SPMs are old. Thirty three have died without so far and 3 have committed suicide. Impact on children as well. See Nick Wallis blog.

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