Oh – and the inquiry re-starts
A busy week. Let’s start with news from Bates Country. The founder and leader of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance has turned down an OBE for “Services to Justice”.
How do we know? Bates himself informed JFSA members in a circular published on Tuesday morning. Refusing the gong, Bates wrote back to the Honours Committee, telling them it would be wrong to accept an award while Paula Vennells, the former Chief Executive of the Post Office, still holds a CBE.
His exact words were: “I hope you can understand why it would be so inappropriate for me to accept any award at the present while so many of the victims continue to suffer so badly and Vennells still retains an honour.”
Bates also reported that the Parliamentary Ombudsman has, after two years, indicated it will investigate the JFSA’s complaint against the government. The next thing it has to decide is how to investigate the government and confirm the investigation is underway. What’s the betting on how long that will take?
Apparently confirming the nature and methodology of the investigation is problematic as the Ombudsman has to “navigate the practical difficulties” of doing something “at the same time as the Inquiry”. They “need to resolve that before we write formally”.
Bates speculates that “others” might be using the ongoing Williams inquiry into the Post Office (sponsored by BEIS) to try to stop or stall the JFSA complaint Ombudsman complaint (into BEIS).
Watch this space, there’s some lichen growing on it.
The podcast is back!
Rebecca and I watched and read the first week of Phase 3 of the inquiry. We picked out all the important bits and put them into a podcast for you. Episode 26 – Alan Bates No.B.E. can be found here.
Although watching proceedings this week has been deathly, it was worth it to see the a part of the Altman Advice briefly pulled up to show to a witness. This is an important document, written in October 2013, by Brian Altman KC, who you may remember represented the Post Office in the Court of Appeal in 2021.
I asked the inquiry team to publish Altman’s Oct 2013 advice today and they kindly did so. You can read it here.
Altman’s Advice was commissioned to review the (secret) Cartwright King Sift Review. Altman raises the issue of a potential conflict of interest in lawyers from Cartwright King (who helped the Post Office prosecute Subpostmasters) reviewing Post Office convictions, yet he didn’t seem to have a problem representing the Post Office at the Court of Appeal in 2021 without apparently telling the Court about his role in advising the Post Office on potential miscarriages of justice in 2013.
Altman spent some time on Fujitsu engineer Gareth Jenkins’ role as an internally discredited expert witness (post Clarke Advice), and notes stopping him from being involved in any further court cases may not be the end of the matter. Altman adds:
“How much real capital may be made of the fact that Mr Jenkins will always be a background figure in the Horizon story is impossible to predict.”
What happened to the Attorney General’s 2013 enquiry?
Another revelation is that the Criminal Cases Review Commission wrote to the Post Office immediately after the publication of Second Sight’s interim report in July 2013 and, at the same time, the Attorney General had been asked to set up an ‘enquiry’, although who by and into what is not explained. Nonetheless this means that the most senior legal official in government had been made aware in 2013 there was a potential problem regarding miscarriages of justice with Post Office prosecutions.
There is no information in the Altman advice as to whether an enquiry was set up. The government, being the owner of the Post Office, had a conflict of interest. I hope Sir Wyn’s inquiry (which has had the Altman advice for many weeks now) has asked for the paperwork from the Attorney General’s office relating to a decision about any enquiry in 2013. If there was an enquiry, it would be helpful to know what the outcome was.
Say what, now?
One of the most alarming elements of the Altman advice is his reporting of the apparent thinking behind the Post Office’s decision to allow convicted Postmasters to take part in 2013’s ill-fated mediation scheme (against the advice of retired Court of Appeal judge Sir Anthony Hooper, who chaired the scheme’s working group). The primary reason appears to be to divert applicants away from the CCRC, whereby the Post Office would lose control of the process.
Altman writes: “On 9 September 2013, I made my views clear about permitting persons who had been convicted of crime against POL [Post Office Ltd] to engage in a mediation process with POL. I thought there lurked real dangers in it. But I understood the policy reasons for it. If a policy decision has been taken to permit those convicted of crime against POL to participate in the mediation process, then there is no case to refer convicted cases wishing to engage in mediation to the CCRC.
Altman says the Post Office must “guard against [convicted] participants using the [mediation] process as a platform to launch an appeal out of time.” Which is an odd thing to say.
As we know, the Post Office, having accepted convicted applicants onto the mediation scheme, refused to mediate them, wasting two years of their lives and forcing them to go to the CCRC, which sat on their cases for another five years.
Bar Standards Board admonished over PO cases
The BSB has been admonished over its decision to pause its investigation into two barristers connected to the Post Office scandal. The barristers are not named in the Legal Services’ Board report which you can read here. If anyone knows who they are, please email me in absolute confidence. I knew nothing about this investigation, and I am grateful to the secret emailer who alerted me to this Law Gazette article, writing it up.
Oxford Literary Festival
Thanks for all your correspondence this week, as ever. I’m going to be speaking at the Oxford Literary Festival at the end of March about the Post Office Scandal. Do come along if you want to – tickets here.
Have a great weekend.