POST OFFICE: HORIZON SCANDAL – SIR WYN WILLIAMS INQUIRY – PRELIMINARY HEARING
Branches are advised that a preliminary hearing in relation to the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry took place on Monday 8thDecember, chaired by Sir Wyn Williams. We participated in the hearing, which focussed on the following 4 four themes:
- Second Sight Investigations Limited (“Second Sight”)
- Reliance upon legal advice
- Conduct of the Group Litigation
- Divergences across the United Kingdom
We submitted our written response on the above to the Inquiry on 29th October and we were also given the opportunity to expand orally at the hearing on Monday, along with other Core Participants including Post Office, the Government (BEIS and UKGI), Fujitsu, Paula Vennells, the Met Police, various legal representatives and the NFSP. As we felt our written submission covered all relevant points, we, along with many of the other attendees didn’t feel it necessary to reiterate our clear position orally at the hearing.
Those who did speak included Sam Stein QC on behalf of 151 Core Participants represented by Howe & Co Solicitors who called for urgent compensation to be paid to the many former Postmasters involved in the Group Litigation who face financial ruin. He said Howe & Co “… wrote to Nick Read, the CEO of Post Office Limited, on 22 October pressing him for urgent compensation for all and, vitally, calling on Post Office Limited and the Government to repay the legal and funding costs deducted from compensation paid in the group litigation”. Post Office’s response to this (via its solicitors) was as follows:
“Post Office Limited has been clear that it understands the continuing sense of injustice amongst the Claimants in the group litigation since it came to light through media reports that around 46 million of the settlement sum was applied towards the Claimants’ litigation funders and legal advisers. Post Office Limited has been in contact with the Government in this regard and will continue these discussions on the group litigation settlement figures.”
Mr Stein responded with the following powerful statement during Monday’s hearing:
“We say this, sir: Post Office Limited and BEIS need to recognise that payment of proper and full compensation, the return of legal costs, is required now. That means immediately and not at some unknown point in the future nor subject to continuing discussions. Post Office and Government has told us they are discussing this. Do it: don’t discuss it, just do it”
The full transcript can be accessed via the following link:
Sir Wyn Williams – Request for Formal Waiver of Legal Privilege
A key output from the hearing was that a short time after it closed, Sir Wyn Williams published a statement which indicates that Post Office, Fujitsu, BEIS and UKGI can potentially no longer hide behind legal privilege when giving evidence. The full statement is as follows:
‘At today’s hearing I heard submissions concerning the waiver of legal professional privilege. I said that I would be making a statement which calls for a response from Post Office Limited, Fujitsu, BEIS and UKGI. Having considered the matter, whilst I may in due course target specific documents or groups of documents as the Inquiry progresses (and I do not invite responses that simply propose a document-by-document process), I am today seeking a waiver of privilege in respect of legally privileged material relevant to the Terms of Reference, as carried into effect by the Provisional List of Issues (and as supplemented by the four themes heard at today’s hearing – which everyone should understand will be investigated by the Inquiry) dated from the date of the first pilot of the Horizon IT System to the Prime Minister’s announcement to hold an inquiry on 26 February 2020. Please can Post Office Limited, Fujitsu, BEIS and UKGI provide their responses to the Inquiry not later than 4pm on 15 November 2021.’
This is obviously a significant development, which will help to address the concerns that have been raised by some key stakeholders as to the effectiveness of Sir Wyn’s Inquiry. The four named entities have just a week to respond. Following this, a further oral preliminary hearing will be held at a date between 6thand 17th December.
The scandal continues to receive significant media coverage, including from the BBC on the day.
The journalist Nick Wallis published a fascinating article on 8th November in which he pointed out that Sir Wyn may have “… heard enough alarming evidence and solid arguments for the need to waive privilege over the course of the day, he felt moved to act immediately.” The article can be accessed via the following link:
There were also stories relating to Monday’s hearing in the Guardian, Computer Weekly and the Daily Mail:
Finally, a CWU web article on the Inquiry has been published and can be viewed via:
Further developments will be reported as appropriate.