Barrister’s “shame” at thought of role in wrongful Post Office conviction

Roberts: Barristers trust instructions

A barrister who prosecuted a sub-postmaster has said he is sickened and “ashamed” at the thought he may have presented incorrect evidence to a court.

Gareth Roberts, who practises from Exchange Chambers, said he had no recollection of the name of the person he prosecuted, “but, if I had the chance, I would gladly meet them on the steps of the Royal Courts of Justice and apologise for my own role in this scandal”.

Writing for Byline Times, Mr Roberts said he was instructed by the Post Office over a decade ago and the papers from the case were long gone.

He stressed that barristers received instructions “trusting that the person who has sent them has done so in good faith, be it a high street solicitor or the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service].

“As such, even though there was no evidence of what had happened to ‘stolen’ money in the papers, and the defendant was (again from memory), an individual of impeccable character, with a number of years’ experience as a sub-postmaster, with no apparent motive to suddenly take money from the till, I would have read the expert evidence, and accepted on face value the assertion that this individual had dishonestly taken money that didn’t belong to them.”

Mr Roberts said he had no memory of a trial and so the defendant may have pleaded guilty.

“This is advice I have given to many defendants over the years – and, like every other barrister, it is always delivered with the caveat that an innocent person should never plead guilty if they haven’t done anything wrong, and that I will respect their plea whatever it is.

“People usually assume that an innocent person would never plead guilty to an offence they hadn’t committed – but the reality is that faced with the prospect of prison or liberty, many people will hold their nose and accept guilt.

“It’s not something we in the legal profession allow ourselves to dwell on; like the verdict of a jury, our role is not to judge, it is to advise and set out clearly the options that are open to our client, so dwelling too long on the repercussions of our client’s decision, or the verdict of the jury would only send you into a spiral of moral confusion.”

But the barrister said that to discover, years later, “that you played a part in what is clearly a systemic failure of the criminal justice system, hurts”.

He continued: “I do not know what happened to the person I prosecuted, I can’t even say for certain if they were actually guilty of the offence or not – but I do know that, like every other barrister, I take pride in doing the job properly and fairly and ensuring that anyone who appears before a court of law charged with a criminal offence is there because the evidence is sound and properly obtained and that the process is transparent, allowing the individual every opportunity to defend themselves.

“The idea that I may have presented evidence before a court of law that was wrong is sickening and I am ashamed of that.”

He added that the challenge now was to ensure a scandal of this nature never happened again – with “profound reform” needed of the ways organisations other than the CPS could prosecute – and that affected sub-postmasters were given proper compensation.

    Readers Comments

  • RICHARD Moorhead says:

    This apology is fine as far as it goes but it also sets alarm bells ringing. I wonder if Mr Roberts should have accepted the case at face value? I would encourage him to read the evidence of Warwick Tatford in the Inquiry. He had revealed to him his own failings in the goriest of details. Tatford had the benefit of having read the case papers but even so had not seen the abundant errors of his ways. I do not suggest Mr Roberts did all that Tatford did but I do suggest he should offer up thecesys he may have failed before he casts around for others to blame. And when offering to apologise, he might reflect on the nature of his offer. At the door of the court is not the place to invite these gentle folks.

  • Simon Hancox says:

    The legal fees on these cases before and after are astronomical and are taking away from any compensation that this impacted will receive. Mr Robert’s will not be alone in managing these flawed prosecutions but you can’t help feeling if he and his fellow barristers really felt that bad they would be handing back some of their fees?

  • David Latimer says:

    What Mr Roberts should surely understand is that an expert witness, though paid by one party, is independent, his duty being to the Court. A witness from Fujitsu, however expert in his field, could or should not have been called as an expert witness

  • Michael Robinson says:

    How do you know how much the barrister was paid?

  • Michael Robinson says:

    This is too harsh.

    Counsel is entitled to rely upon the evidence presented to him.
    He is entitled to trust those who instruct him to have investigated the case properly and to have acted lawfully.

  • Michael Robinson says:

    You don’t know what evidence was adduced in this case or whether someone from Fujitsu was an expert witness or merely a witness.
    Indeed it’s for the defence to challenge the evidence adduced. What did they do?
    How did they conduct the defence? What did they advise.

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