SRA lays out scale of Post Office investigations

Post Office: Court orders have forced company to hand over documents

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) revealed yesterday that it has more than 20 live investigations into solicitors and law firms involved in the Post Office scandal.

The regulator said it was also looking at the conduct of solicitors in relation to their engagement and cooperation with the ongoing public inquiry chaired by Sir Wyn Williams.

In its latest update, the SRA said it was looking at a wide range of issues in the investigations, including but not limited to solicitors’ management and supervision of cases, and the strategy and conduct of prosecutions and of litigation – including the Bates group litigation – duties relating to expert witnesses.

Also under scrutiny was solicitors’ disclosure obligations and improper application of privilege to protect communications from disclosure, the use of non-disclosure-agreements and the labelling of correspondence.

The SRA said it was also looking into “issues relating to the operation of the Post Office complaint review and mediation scheme, including overcharging of claimants” – which indicates that it may be probing some subpostmasters’ solicitors too.

The reference to co-operation with the inquiry seems likely to include Jane McLeod, the Post Office’s general counsel from 2015 to 2019, who refused to return from Australia to give evidence.

The SRA said it has so far scrutinised tens-of-thousands of pages of information and evidence, some of which it has obtained through court orders requiring the Post Office/Royal Mail Group to provide documents.

“Our investigation covers multiple, multifaceted issues where there may have been potential misconduct. New issues and evidence are coming to light on an ongoing basis, particularly from the public inquiry,” it said.

“We expect further relevant evidence from the inquiry in the coming months, when it will look at issues such as the conduct of the group litigation and governance.”

The statement reiterated the SRA’s position that it would not take action until after the inquiry concludes but this would change were there evidence to show a solicitor presented an ongoing risk to the public that needed urgently addressing – which there currently was not.

Chief executive Paul Philip said: “Although the range of issues we are investigating is complex, the fundamentals are simple. The public expect solicitors to behave ethically. They must act independently and do the right thing in the interests of justice.

‘We will take action where we find they have failed to do so. This is vital to protect the public, maintain trust in the profession, and send a clear message that any solicitor behaving unethically should expect serious consequences.

‘We will act as swiftly as we can, but it is important that we get this right. We owe that to everyone impacted in this case and the wider public.”

    Readers Comments

  • Mike Hodgson says:

    This looks to be a PO type cover up, solicitors investigating solicitors. On reading details of the public inquiry it seems the solicitors ethics and impartiality were totally compromised by the fear of losing the PO contract and nothing else. How some of them can sleep at night is amazing. There should be custodial sentences imposed, they are a disgrace not only to their profession but as human beings. I would like to see some strong action on your part, but I would guess like a huge amount of normal people that, that would be far from the case. I will not be holding my breath, put it that way.

  • James Alistair Dunn says:

    I hope and expect that the relevant authority is also investigating the conduct of Counsel who were involved in the proceedings.

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