73 Convictions Quashed

This week the 73rd Subpostmaster conviction was quashed. Margaret White (neé Sowinska), ran the Banbury Road Post Office in Oxford. In 2007, she pleaded guilty to two counts of false accounting after Post Office “auditors” found a £28,000 discrepancy at her branch. That conviction was quashed at the Court of Appeal on Tuesday.

The Oxford Mail has a write-up, here.

Of the two other cases heard the same day, one was adjourned, the other was opposed and a judgment will be made in due course.

According to information I have been given, of the 706 convictions Post Office convictions which the Post Office believes may be Horizon-related, 100 have now been through the appeal courts.

72 convictions have been overturned unopposed and 28 have dismissed, abandoned or refused permission.

One Postmaster conviction secured by the DWP (using Horizon evidence) has been overturned, a further five have either been opposed by the CPS and upheld or abandoned.

Statistical oddity

The Court of Appeal has so far maintained its record of failing to overturn any case which the Post Office has opposed, whilst also quashing all the convictions of those whose appeals have been unopposed.

It’s not clear how much actual analysis of each case the Court of Appeal is doing, or what effect this might be having on CCRC referral decisions.

The barrister Paul Marshall, who represented Seema Misra, Janet Skinner and Tracy Felstead told me:

“The Court of Appeal appears to have adopted, as the determinant of whether an appeal is allowed or not, a test that correlates exactly with whether the Post Office resists the appeal or contests it.

“If the Post Office contests the appeal, the Court of Appeal… appears to adopt a formula that in loose terms is…: ‘was Horizon/its reliability central to the prosecution’?

“While attractive for its beguiling simplicity, that formulation… may be doubted. For the whole of the relevant period, the only accounting system available to the Post Office was Horizon. Further, there was, intentionally, no other parallel system…

“The only way in which the Post Office was able to evidence amounts paid out or in was by Horizon. Without doing too much injustice to the Court of Appeal’s approach, to apply a test of whether the issue is a “shortfall of cash or stock” might suggest that the court may not have fully grasped the full scale, consequences and effects of Horizon’s unreliability – or various other unresolved doubts about the Post Office’s systems and processes.

“Oversimplification may readily be productive of error.”

I will be putting Mr Marshall’s points to the CCRC and Court of Appeal in due course.

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