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Coronavirus: CCRC uses Microsoft Teams to consider subpostmaster appeals

Criminal Cases Review Commission to use Microsoft Teams to ensure review of subpostmaster prosecutions is held on time

The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) is using Microsoft Teams to ensure its commissioners can meet to consider applications to appeal subpostmasters’ convictions.

The organisation said it is determined for the review of the cases to go ahead. This comes in the light of the increasingly public fall-out from a recent High Court judgment.

In April 2015, the CCRC began reviewing 27 claims, a number that has increased since the conclusion of a High Court group litigation that proved the subpostmasters who blamed the Post Office’s Horizon computer system for accounting shortfalls were right, and that the Post Office was wrong to blame them. 

Subpostmasters were prosecuted by the Post Office for alleged crimes including false accounting and theft, when the Horizon IT system they used had recorded accounting shortfalls. Some went to prison and many had their lives ruined through lost businesses, ill health and huge fines. The CCRC is reviewing 58 applications from subpostmasters to appeal their convictions.

At the end of January, the CCRC announced that a committee of commissioners would meet on 24 March to consider the cases, but the spread of coronavirus has put this in doubt. 

Computer Weekly first reported on the problems with Horizon in 2009, when it made public the stories of a group of subpostmasters (see timeline below).

Now, as meetings are cancelled across the world to reduce the spread of coronavirus, the CCRC will use cloud-based collaboration software Microsoft Teams to ensure the commissioners’ meeting goes ahead.

A CCRC spokesman said the meeting will feature three commissioners and four people working on the cases. “We have used remote access to do committees before, but we have never used it when every participant is dialling in remotely,” the spokesman said.

Traditionally, a meeting of this type of would see the group meet for eight hours, but this will be a little different, said the spokesman. He said the CCRC was reluctant to postpone the hearing, which will look into criminal prosecutions that go back well over a decade. “We were very reluctant to postpone, so we have found a way to go ahead with the committee and will do our best in the current circumstances,” he added.

In terms of decisions coming out of the meeting, it is possible the process could be slowed down and there might need to be another meeting. The CCRC said in a letter to applicants: “This is not straightforward in a case of this size and complexity in which the committee will require contributions from a number of commission staff. It is therefore unclear at present how far the committee will be able to get on 24 March and whether it may need to reconvene at a later date.”

The CCRC spokesman said applicants will be updated as soon as any new information comes out.

A Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) meeting due to take place on the same day, where former Post Office CEO Paula Vennells was expected to face questions, has been postponed because of coronavirus precautions.

Timeline of the Post Office Horizon case since Computer Weekly first reported on it in 2009

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