SRA: No plans to act yet on Post Office scandal lawyers

Post Office: Inquiry ongoing

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) could take action against solicitors over misconduct in the Post Office scandal before the public inquiry ends but has yet to see evidence that requires it.

Having previously said it would have to wait until the end of Sir Wyn Williams’ inquiry before taking any action, chief executive Paul Philip confirmed this week that it could act if the evidence already available demanded it.

This would mean that a solicitor presents an immediate and ongoing risk to the public and users of legal services, but at this point, the SRA says it does not have such evidence.

An issue facing the regulator is that, even though it is a core participant, the inquiry will not hand over any of the evidence it holds because the SRA refused in summer 2022 to provide an undertaking around its use.

The SRA said at the time that doing so would restrict its ability to use and disclose the material, meaning it would instead need to wait to the end of the inquiry process before it could take any further formal steps.

The regulator argues that there is a significant risk in making a final assessment of the evidence and then potentially taking action at this stage given that the inquiry is ongoing and all the evidence is not yet available.

The inquiry is due to complete its hearings this summer, but the timetable for Sir Wyn’s report is not clear.

Asked by Legal Futures at a press briefing this week whether the SRA might act more quickly, given that many of the solicitors under scrutiny are still practising, Mr Philip said it was “standard practice” with police investigations or public inquiries that they dealt with the evidence and reached their conclusions first, before the SRA made its moves.

The SRA would need permission from the inquiry to use the evidence produced to do so, he explained, although he would not have a problem with asking for it if necessary.

Mr Philip added that he would also expect the inquiry to contact the SRA if it thought action needed to be taken now.

No such contact has been made and Mr Philip said the information the SRA has to date “hasn’t made us think we need to take priority action” against any solicitors.

In a statement, an SRA spokesman expanded on this: “We are investigating the conduct of lawyers and firms involved in the Post Office Horizon scandal. If solicitors fall short of the standards the public expects, we will take action.

“We, however, need to make sure that action is based upon sufficient evidence, including the key evidence coming out of the ongoing public inquiry. We will not have access to the inquiry’s findings and all the relevant evidence until the inquiry is complete.

“It is therefore likely that we will need to wait until the end of the inquiry before we can take action. We are keeping our approach under constant review and will take action sooner if we have sufficient evidence.”

    Readers Comments

  • Mr Michael Freeman says:

    None so blind as they who will not see

  • Alan Fox says:

    Perhaps they should read the Court of Appeal judgement properly in JOSEPHINE HAMILTON & OTHERS and – POST OFFICE LIMITED [2021] EWCA Crim 577 including “It was POL’s clear duty to investigate all reasonable lines of enquiry, to consider disclosure and to make disclosure to the appellants of anything which might reasonably be considered to undermine its case…… The consistent failure of POL to be open and honest about the issues affecting Horizon can in our view only be explained by a strong reluctance to say or do anything which might lead to other SPMs knowing about those issues. Those concerned with prosecutions of SPMs clearly wished to be able to maintain the assertion that Horizon data was accurate, and effectively steamrolled over any SPM who sought to challenge its accuracy.”

    If ever there was a compelling argument to scrap private prosecutions of this sort (and properly fund the Police, CPS/SFO etc and legal aid), this is it.

  • Barrie Orton says:

    I agree with both comments above and pray the POLs are treated with the same speed, force and disdain that they treated the wrongfully convicted SPMs. Shameful strike off the guilty and let them suffer the full force of their law.

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