Post Office refuses to say how much Grabiner and Neuberger cost

Neuberger (l) and Grabiner

On 4 October 2023, I asked the Post Office to disclose the fee notes for Lords Grabiner and Neuberger under the Freedom of Information Act. I thought it would be interesting to know just how much public cash the Post Office used to spend on their advice, which informed the Post Office’s decision to demand Mr Justice Fraser recuse himself as managing judge of the Bates v Post Office litigation .

On 20 Dec 2023, the Post Office refused to hand over the fee notes. On 28 Dec 2023 I asked the Post Office to review their decision (giving various reasons as outlined below).

Today, a full five months later, and within minutes of Lord Grabiner finishing his evidence to the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry, the Post Office informed me they were still not going to give me the information I asked for. “We apologise for the delay in responding”, they wrote. Yeah, right.

Here is their letter.

11 June 2024

Dear Nick Wallis,

Internal Review under the Freedom of Information Act IR2023/00719

I am writing in response to your request for an Internal Review of Post Office Limited’s (“Post Office”) handling of your recent request for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (“FOIA”). Please accept my apologies for the delay in providing a response.

In your original request for recorded information under case reference FOI2023/00578 received by Post Office on 4 October 2023, you requested the following information:

“Please could you provide, under FOIA, the fee notes from Lord Grabiner and Lord Neuberger’s chambers for the work undertaken in 2019 on the recusal application to remove Mr Justice Fraser as managing judge from the Bates v Post Office litigation. It would be useful to know how much they were paid and the nature of the work they charged for.”

Post Office responded to you on 20 December 2023 stating that the requested information was being withheld under sections 40(2) and 43(2) of the FOIA, relating to personal data and commercial interests, respectively, and that disclosing the fee notes (constituting the named individuals’ personal and commercial data), would be likely to prejudice their and our commercial interests as well as infringe on their personal-data rights.

On the 28 December 2023, you contacted Post Office to request an Internal Review of its decision to withhold the requested information under subsections 40(2) and 43(2) of the FOIA.

A copy of the body of your email is provided below:

“Thanks for the response. I would like to request a review of your refusal (dated 20 December) to provide the information requested in my original email, dated 4 October 2023 Lord Grabiner’s fees have been disclosed by public authorities on at least two occasions. At the request of an MP, this letter was written by the Bank of England:

And at the request of a journalist, this information was made public by the Bank of England:

From the information above, we can see Lord Grabiner was paid £1000 an hour (ex VAT) for work conducted in 2014. Given there is precedent in disclosing Lord Grabiner’s fees both to parliament and to a journalist under FOIA which does not seem to have harmed either Lord Grabiner or the Bank of England, your argument about section 43(2) of the Act rather falls away, unless you can demonstrate how disclosing Lord Grabiner’s and Lord Neubererger’s 2019 fees might prejudice Lord Grabiner’s, Lord Neuberger’s or your commercial interests.

On the issue of Section 40(2) – data protection – I am not asking for personal data, I’m asking for the amount Lords Grabiner and Neuberger charged you and what they charged you for. This is not personal information. If the fee note contains personal information, please either feel free to redact it OR provide the information I have asked for, without giving me the actual fee note.

I suspect you are trying to hide behind a spurious argument to protect the reputation of your organisation, rather than comply with the spirit of Freedom of Information law. Please acknowledge this email immediately and please provide a substantive response by midday on Friday 5 Jan.”

In line with the requirements of the FOIA and the associated Code of Practice, we have carried out an internal review of your request for information and the way your request has been handled by the Information Rights Team in accordance with the FOIA.

Having considered your original request afresh, while taking careful note of the comments in your request for an internal review, as well as consulting with colleagues in the business, the Post Office Review Panel considers that the Information Rights team has appropriately responded to your request in accordance with the FOIA.

You contend that Post Office has misapplied the relevant provisions of the FOIA because: (a) if the fee notes issued to Post Office by the named individuals contain personal information, they should be redacted and then published; and (b) some other fee notes issued by one of the named individuals had been published by some other public authorities in the past without causing harm to anybody. The Post Office Review Panel has reviewed the handling of your request and considered each point you raised which I have set out below:

a) Request to disclose the fee notes after redacting personal information

We maintain that disclosing the fee notes will violate the absolute exemption under sections 40(2) and 40(3A) of the FOIA because they constitute personal data in their entirety. These sections exempt personal data from disclosure if that information relates to someone other than the applicant, and if disclosure of that information would breach any of the data protection principles in Article 5(1) of the UK General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

We consider that disclosure of this information is likely to breach the first data-protection principle, which provides that personal data must be processed lawfully, fairly, and in a transparent manner. Disclosure would not constitute ‘fair’ processing of the personal data because the named individuals would not reasonably expect their personal data to be disclosed in relation to this request for information.

Our decision is supported by section 3(2) of the Data Protection Act 2018, which defines personal data as “any information relating to an identified or identifiable living individual”. You have already identified and named the individuals, and the fee notes clearly relate to them because they had issued them in the first place in respect of their legal work for Post Office in 2019. As the whole fee notes constitute personal data, nothing will be left after redaction. And even if anything remains, it will serve no useful purpose because their itemised contents (the essence of your request) would have been redacted, including the amounts charged for the work done.

b) One of the named individual’s fee notes had been disclosed by other public authorities without harm in the past

As the fee notes are itemised, legal-work bills issued to Post Office by the named individuals, we maintain our decision that they constitute commercially sensitive data and are exempt under section 43(2) of the FOIA, relating to information which would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interests of any person (including the public authority holding it).

In applying this exemption, we have had to balance the public interest in withholding the information against the public interest in disclosure. We recognise that there is a public interest in disclosure of the fee notes as this helps to promote transparency in Post Office business and reassurance about the way public money is being spent.

However, there is a strong public interest in withholding the information as it would likely, if disclosed, prejudice the commercial interests of Post Office, the named individuals or, both.

Disclosure of this information may lead to future services being commercially exploited by third parties as the fee notes would weaken Post Office’s ability to negotiate better value for money contracts. It would, therefore, not be in the public interest to disclose information if Post Office would be unable to operate in a fair marketplace regarding the competitive dialogue procedure and are commercially damaged by the release of the information.

I am sorry not to have been able to provide you with the information you seek on this occasion. If you remain unhappy with the handling of this request, you also have a right to appeal to the Information Commissioner who can be contacted at the address below:

Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF
Telephone: 0303 123 1113

Yours sincerely

Information Rights Team

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27 responses to “Post Office refuses to say how much Grabiner and Neuberger cost”

  1. Oliver Harrison avatar
    Oliver Harrison

    Ironically, Lord Neuberger is the Chair of the High-Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom.

  2. Interesting to see the tact and arrogance of the real establishment, those special people who use their powerful names and influence to actually run and control the Law of the land.

  3. Why did no one pointed out to Grabiner if the request to recuse the judge would have resulted in the action being lost and the Sub Postmasters and Mistresses being denied justice?

  4. Grabiner, what a thoroughly horrible man. Unhelpful with an inflated sense of self importance. It made me cringe listening to Sir Wyn thank him at the end.

  5. I assume that the Post Office’s legal advice on this occasion was provided by Mr Jarnail Singh.

  6. Grabiner was clearly irritated at being inconvenienced yesterday afternoon.
    Perhaps he should have been reminded that many innocent people had their lives ruined.

  7. Philip Wardle avatar

    Another translation: “little people have no right under the FOIA to know how much of their money is being spent to sustain the imbalance of power between them and big business / government”.

  8. Peter Harland avatar

    Well it looks like the “ hand of Chairperson Alice” is still at play. “ Tell the legal experts the problem and the answer you want and they will deliver” and their invoices!!

    Nick can you comment update us on how the Postmasters are going with getting full financial compensation? Thanks

  9. Just as the Post Office is no longer fit for purpose, the loop holes that allow public bodies to withhold information about how public money has been spaffed away by faceless bureaucrats proves that the FOIA is not fit for purpose either.

    The delay in replying and the response coming just seconds after evidence had been given to the inquiry is just taking the proverbial.

    The Post Office acts like the former communist state of Eastern Germany. But instead of bricks it has built a legalise wall to shield it from the world. About as transparent as the former Berlin Wall and with propaganda merchants who would not have been out of place working alongside the Stasi.

    Who is behind this latest attempt at hiding the truth about how the Post Office through money to fix a problem? Rod the builder? Can he fix it? Has he?

    The Post Office is deceptively slow at releasing information at the best of times.

    This is like watching a girder rust.

    1. Dr John Barbwr avatar
      Dr John Barbwr

      Having watched the Odious Grabiner in person at the enquiry yesterday I suddenly realised that the reason for the Post Office refusing to release how much of OUR money was handed over to him for his advice was that the Post Office probably had a non disclosure agreement with him just as they did with some of the unfortunate sub post masters!

  10. Th payments for legal advice, on which you are seeking information, will have been made to a BSB (Bar Standards Board) legal entity. Could this be a private person exempted from FOI requests? You may find this is not the case.

  11. Robert Bluffield avatar
    Robert Bluffield

    What a complete disgrace on behalf of Post Office. Why are they continuing to hide from the truth, of course, it has to be in the public interest to release this information. However, they have continuously obstructed the Horizon Inquiry and go unpunished.

  12. Their responses to you are absolute nonsense and utterly confusing ‘word soup’ as Mr Beer would say: miopic, self-serving, even ridiculous (the BS about possible adverse affect on POL being able to raise funds!!!)…… Frightful, morally bankrupt people…..

  13. Well, I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that POL maintains its robust* stance on not disclosing useful information. I wonder if Ben Foat played any part in crafting this “transparent” reply to your request?

    *Sorry, I couldn’t resist the use of this word.

  14. What a truly pathetic performance by Grabiner this afternoon. At times choosing his favourite ‘attack dog’ style, snarling at and insulting Beer, then preening over the memories of his own brilliance, and finally, when he felt he was under pressure, taking flight to hide behind Lord Neuberger’s ‘skirts’! And ‘yes’ POL’ should respond to your request for details of Grabiner and Neuberger’s fees. Good question, Nick. Delighted you are rattling POL’s FOI guardians!

  15. Alan Cornforth avatar

    They probably paid their fees from the profits made from the sub-postmasters who had to re-mortgage their homes to pay off ‘phantom’ discrepancies! Grabiner clearly didn’t like being on the other side of questions today and his superior attitude to Beer was more than apparent.

  16. Close, but no de Garr…

    (I’ll get my coat)

  17. The whole Post Office approach throughout has had more than a whiff of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce about it. In this vein, your next FOI request should ask how much the Post office spends on paying for legal advice on how to avoid disclosing information about money paid to lawyers.

    In other news, I thought Lord Grabiner was clearly up for the fight today and played out a score draw with Jason Beer. At least that’s what it looks like at the moment. It might not look like that when all the evidence is in and has been weighed.

  18. Peter Bennett avatar

    This is why Nick Reed should be removed from post immediately. He has demonstrated since his appointment that he is only interested in three things. Himself, his pay and his bonus. He could not answer simple questions at the he parliament select committee. He would not discuss any of the terrible harm caused to the postmasters. He has proved himself to be the wrong appointment from the start of his tenure

  19. Andrew Currie avatar

    Translation into everyday language: “We have no genuine grounds for refusal but would prefer that you didn’t know how much public money has been wasted getting bad legal advice.”

  20. I’m not particularly surprised that POL turned down the FOI request (though I don’t understand the legal niceties): I imagine they are running scared of two legal bigwigs, quite apart from POL’s congenital inclination not to disclose anything where possible. Lord Grabiner at 58:50 to 59:10 of his testimony showed an extraordinary degree of grumpiness and petulance at an entirely clear question from Jason Beer about a communication between the two legal lordships concerning Lord Justice Fraser “Was this becoming personalised?” “What do you mean by that?” … “As between you and the judge” “Which judge?” What a ridiculous response! But also one that signaled clearly “Don’t you dare to cross me – the great me.”

    1. Alan Cornforth avatar
      Alan Cornforth

      It was interesting that every time Beer showed Grabiner HIS words clearly attacking the judge’s abilities, he weaselled out of it by saying it was both him and Neuberger who had this opinion! I’m sure if Beer had more time he could have isolated Grabiner’s comments and proved his point but, I suspect, he was glad to see the back of him.

    2. Very ignorant answer from so called Lord to a very simple question.. oh look at me, I am a lord and you cannot question me, even if it had such a monumental detrimental impact on many innocent peoples lives. Would have liked to have seen Sir Wyn ask him to answer the questions without being so smug 😡

  21. And heaven forbid that anyone would wish to prejudice the commercial interests of the Post Office, let alone the named individuals.
    No doubt your ICO appeal is being created as I write. Best of luck.

  22. We do know what PO’s legal costs for the two recusal actions were (thanks to your reports back in the day), so that’s a guide. What JB chose not to read into the record was just how wide of the mark the views of these puffed up lawyers were.

  23. Oliver Harrison avatar
    Oliver Harrison

    You’d think the Post Office would be keen to be seen to be cooperating.

    Escalate this case to the ICO.

    Best of luck and keep up the good work

  24. PO: we wasted a shedload of money in a futile attempt to save our reputation; this failed causing us further embarrassment. We’re not going to let you see the figures because they are so huge, that would make us look even worse.

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