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CCRC sends 47 subpostmaster miscarriages of justice for appeal, asks for prosecution powers review

The Criminal Cases Review Commission sends 47 more subpostmaster cases to Court of Appeal and asks government to review private prosecution powers

The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) has today sent a total of 47 cases of potential miscarriages of justice to the Court of Appeal for review, along with its statement of the reasons for recommending them.

This comes after a further eight cases were added to those already announced.  

In a development of major significance, the CCRC has also written to the justice select committee and attorney general’s office to suggest that there is some kind of formal review of the circumstances where a private prosecution can be brought when the victim of the alleged crime is also the prosecutor, which is what happened in these cases.

In its statements of reasons in cases referred to the Court of Appeal, the CCRC said: “…in the context of POL’s combined status as victim, investigator and prosecutor of the offences in question – the CCRC considers that there are reasons for significant concern as to whether POL at all times acted as a thorough and objective investigator and prosecutor, ensuring that all reasonable lines of inquiry were explored. The CCRC further considers that this concern applies to POL’s approach throughout the period 2001 to 2013, that is, the timespan of the convictions which are considered in this Statement of Reasons.”

The CCRC began reviewing 27 applications in 2015, but the number has increased over the five years since. A total of 61 cases were reviewed by the CCRC with an initial decision to refer 39 to the Court of Appeal, made in March. After further work, the CCRC has decided to refer eight more.

As well as the 47 cases that have now been referred to the Court of appeal, the CCRC has  made a provisional decision not to refer seven cases, but this is not a final decision, and the individuals can respond to the CCRC’s reasoning before a final decision is made. The remaining seven cases are still under review.

The CCRC’s statements of reasons, for the referrals, have been emailed to the Court of Appeal for the 39 cases that were initially decided, making the appeals concrete.  The further eight will reach this position after paperwork is completed.

The appellants are all former subpostmasters who were prosecuted by the Post Office, which is permitted to instigate private prosecutions, for crimes such as theft and false accounting as a result of unexplained accounting shortfalls. Campaigners had always claimed that the shortfall could have been caused by computer errors, which the Post Office strenuously denied. But a recent High Court case proved the campaigners were right and the Post Office was wrong.

Over a period spanning around 20 years, subpostmasters were prosecuted for theft and false accounting, with many going bankrupt and some sent to jail. The subpostmasters claimed that accounting shortfalls were not caused by them but by faults in the Post Office’s retail and accounting computer system that they use in branches. Computer Weekly first reported on the problems with the system from Fujitsu, known as Horizon, in 2009 when it made public the stories of a group of subpostmasters (see timeline below).

The CCRC also recommended that any of the hundreds of cases being looked at by the Post Office, where Horizon data was used in prosecutions, should be thinking about an appeal. The Post Office has identified about 900 cases of subpostmasters who could have been prosecuted based on Horizon data.

If people think what happened in these cases happened in their own cases they should be considering appeal. If they have not already appealed and have the right to appeal, the quickest way forward is to apply to the relevant court. If they have already appealed, they lose the right to appeal and should apply to the CCRC.

In a High Court judgment in December 2019, judge Peter Fraser said the Post Office had exhibited “a simple institutional obstinacy or refusal to consider any possible alternatives to their view of Horizon, which was maintained regardless of the weight of factual evidence to the contrary”. 

He added: “That approach by the Post Office was continued, even though now there is also considerable expert evidence to the contrary, and much of it agreed expert evidence on the existence of numerous bugs.

“This approach by the Post Office has amounted, in reality, to bare assertions and denials that ignore what has actually occurred, at least so far as the witnesses called before me in the Horizon issues trial are concerned. It amounts to the 21st century equivalent of maintaining that the Earth is flat.”

Subpostmasters are currently raising money to support them in their attempts to get the Parliamentary Ombudsman to scrutinise the government’s role in the Horizon scandal. If you want to support the subpostmasters taking on the government to redress their considerable grievances, you can pledge here. The money is only paid once the target is met.

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

 

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