Inquiry chair rejects KC’s ‘second opinion’ submitted by Post Office

Williams: Surprised by Post Office’s actions

The chair of the Post Office inquiry has criticised the company for submitting a report it commissioned from a KC critiquing the expert views of a KC the inquiry itself appointed.

Sir Wyn Williams declined to admit the report from Jonathan Laidlaw KC, saying he was “surprised, to say the least” that the Post Office thought it appropriate to submit written closing submissions referring to Mr Laidlaw’s observations without first seeking his permission for the report to be admitted as evidence.

The former High Court judge made the comments on publishing written closing submissions received following the conclusion of the inquiry’s phase 4 hearings, which dealt with how subpostmasters were investigated and prosecuted.

In August 2022, Sir Wyn appointed Duncan Atkinson KC, a former senior Treasury counsel, as an expert witness to independently review and analyse evidence the inquiry had received on the conduct of the private prosecutions the Post Office brought.

Mr Atkinson’s report was submitted to the chair and core participants in two parts last year, and he gave oral evidence on them.

In a statement issued yesterday, Sir Wyn said the Post Office’s closing written submissions relied on Mr Laidlaw’s report, also in two parts, “which it commissioned to provide expert opinion upon the matters considered by Duncan Atkinson KC”.

“Following the receipt of part 1 of Mr Laidlaw’s report on 12 September 2023, I considered whether I should admit it as written evidence. I decided not to do so. I had not invited the Post Office to obtain evidence from Mr Laidlaw (or any other barrister of similar experience and seniority).

“I was content to rely upon the expertise of Mr Atkinson and, as is no doubt well known to core participants, I have substantial experience of participating in criminal trials and criminal appeals both as a barrister and as a judge.”

Between announcing that decision on 20 September and Mr Laidlaw submitting the second part of his report on the evening of 2 February – the day of closing submissions on phase 4 – the Post Office did not contact Sir Wyn about the issue. Nor did it mention the report in its closing submissions.

“I infer that the absence of such submissions was because (a) I had declined to admit part 1 of the report as written evidence and (b) those making oral submissions were unaware of part 2.”

Sir Wyn continued: “In the light of this history, I was surprised to read references to parts 1 and 2 of Mr Laidlaw’s report in the written closing submissions on behalf of the Post Office.”

Nonetheless, the judge said he had considered again whether to admit Mr Laidlaw’s report but decided it would “not be appropriate”.

The other core participants had proceeded on the basis that part 1 could be ignored; to admit it now “would be taking the inquiry backwards as opposed to forwards” and would be “very unlikely to further my understanding of the core issues under consideration in phase 4”.

Admitting part 2 would mean inviting all core participants to make written submissions about it and potentially require oral evidence. “I can think of no cogent reason which would justify me admitting part 2 in evidence.”

Sir Wyn said he would ignore those parts of the Post Office submission which referred to or relied upon Mr Laidlaw’s report.

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