Sub-postmasters’ solicitor calls on SRA to investigate Post Office lawyers

Post Office: Inquiry call

One of the solicitors who acted for sub-postmasters cleared last week by the Court of Appeal is to call on the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to investigate every lawyer acting for the Post Office.

Another said it would not be “clear who knew what and when” until there was a public inquiry.

The court ruled that 39 former sub-postmasters were wrongly convicted of stealing money from the Post Office on the basis of data from the flawed Horizon computer system, with some given long prison sentences.

Appeal judges found that the Post Office knew there were serious issues about the reliability of Horizon, but failed to adequately consider or disclose them to the people it prosecuted.

Nick Gould, a partner at Aria Grace Law who acted for three of the sub-postmasters, said: “We will be writing formally to the SRA requesting a thorough investigation into the role of every lawyer acting for the Post Office. It is the very least the legal profession owes our clients.”

A spokesman for the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) said yesterday: “We are aware of the issue and are gathering all relevant information before deciding on any next steps.” The Bar Standards Board had no comment.

Paul Harris, senior partner of Edward Fail Bradshaw & Waterson in east London, said only a full statutory inquiry could determine “how and to what extent, if any” the Post Office’s lawyers were responsible for errors or misconduct.

Mr Harris, who also acted for three of the defendants, said: “It is not clear who knew what and when and this in itself requires proper investigation.

“We need to know what information was provided to the prosecution lawyers and what they were told by the Post Office about the problems with the Horizon system before we can answer this question definitely.

“This, amongst the many other issues, as to what level of seniority these issues were known and to what extent the relevant government ministry knew about the problems is clearly a matter for an inquiry.”

Mr Harris said that the current Post Office review was “not looking at these issues” and only a full statutory inquiry could determine “how and to what extent, if any, the prosecution lawyers fell into error/misconduct” or whether they “did the best they could in the circumstances”.

He went on: “This means that any lessons learnt from this scandal for future private and state prosecutions will not be the subject of any scrutiny and no professional, regulatory, or code of practice or CPIA [Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act] changes will be made as nothing will be learned from this saga until there is a full, independent statutory inquiry into what has happened and recommendations made to stop it happening again.”

Richard Moorhead, professor of law and professional ethics at Exeter Law School, wrote in a blog that the case raised a host of professional concerns.

“I hope that the BSB and SRA will investigate with all due alacrity not just to see if anyone should be held to account but also for the lessons that can be learned.”

He went on: “Many of the problems here are as much corporate governance problems as legal ethics problems but we should not let that fact drop between the two stools or linger for yet more years.

“If we ask the traditional question of all such scandals, Where were the lawyers? The only response is ‘Where weren’t they? Because they were either at the heart of it or ought to have been. Not solely responsible, of course, but importantly responsible.”

    Readers Comments

  • Happy says:

    Due diligence with competence computer knowledge, accounting knowledge and legal knowledge would probably pointed earlier on the flaw in the program. Lesson needs to be learnt as innocent people suffered.

  • Rodney Coleman says:

    An equiry is vital here

  • Jeremy Burnett Rae says:

    in every case there is at least one loser, and it does not follow that their lawyers should be investigated. in this case, of multiple losses to justice itself, with one and the same semi-official prosecutor represented by its multiple well-resourced lawyers, against numerous legally aided defendants, we have a compelling public interest, as well as an excellent opportunity to research the post-millennial realities of British Injustice. I for one intend to write a doctoral thesis on the subject.

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