Thursday 18 August 2022

The Post Office Horizon Trial and subsequent Inquiry

I have been quite on this of late, not because nothing is happening, but because I am busy and have left plenty of references, mainly to Nick Wallis excellent blogs, but elsewhere.

Very little is happening on the compensation front, although I understand that the 555, the Sub-Posmasters in the Group Litigation order case against Post Office Limited are starting to get their first interim payments.  Slowly.

The reason for this post, however, is more revelations about who knew what and when.  Through a Freedom of Information request it has been discovered that the Government (in the form of the Business Minister Baroness Neville-Rolfe), expressed concern about possible miscarriages of justice. She directed Tim Parker to give these concerns his “earliest attention” on assuming his role as PO chairman.

The review was undertaken in February 2016 for the newly appointed Mr Parker by the government’s senior civil law counsel, Jonathan Swift QC.

The review is an extraordinary and important document, in the light of what is now known. The Swift review – Concerning the steps taken in response to various complaints made by sub-postmasters – runs to 175 paragraphs and 65 pages, and was relied upon by Mr Parker to allay government anxiety about potential miscarriages of justice.

But the Review was never seen by the Post Office Board!  Parker kept it to himself on what seems to be dubious legal advice concerning legal privilege.  

Mr Swift says that process (by law firm Cartwright King) was the subject of “oversight and advice from Brian Altman QC”, whom he notes had “considered both the process adopted by Cartwright King, and their actual decisions in a sample of cases, to be reasonable and appropriate”.

This wasn’t revealed to the Court of Appeal in 2021. You'll probably recall that Mr Altman was the Post Office’s lead counsel on the 2021 appeals!

This summary is extracted from an excellent piece by Paul Marshall, who was responsible, in the face of widespread opposition, for pursuing ‘second category abuse of process’ as a freestanding ground of appeal, an issue of decisive importance including in the Williams inquiry being elevated to a statutory inquiry.

With his solicitors, Aria Grace Law, and junior, Flora Page, he was responsible for eliciting from the Post Office the now infamous ‘Clarke advice’.

Read the whole piece at Legal Futures.   It's a 15-20 minute read, and is entitled

The Post Office, smoke and mirrors – and it’s all just got a bit worse


  1. in 1997 the law was changed so that "In England and Wales, courts consider computers, as a matter of law, to have been working correctly unless there is evidence to the contrary. Therefore, evidence produced by computers is treated as reliable unless other evidence suggests otherwise."

    I cannot remember what prompted this change. I think that information may be buried away somewhere in your blog, but if it is I can no longer find it.

    I worked for many years in IT in the pharmaceutical industry. There, the regulating authorities (the FDA in USA and MHRA in UK) ignored this law and insisted that any technology or software that could affect product quality be validated. This means roughly that a formal group of documents is required to be produced describing in full detail what the system is intended to be used for and how it should do it, and a complete test of the system against those requirements. All tests have to be witnessed, outcomes recorded etc and the whole lot signed for as each test is conducted by the witness and the tester. In the pharmaceutical industry your signature is sacred and can be used in a court of law.

    If we had maintained the standards that the Post Office has, we would have killed thousands of people by now. That's what all of this means.

    Thank you for keeping this wicked miscarriage of justice in the limelight. The Post Office has not yet wriggled off the hook, nor has Fujitsu, and there are many in the auditing and legal professions still to be brought to account.

    1. Hi Mike, thanks. One person who has written and spoken extensively about IT and the law is James Christie. Even if you are not a Twitter member you can see his various comments (and Dundee FC reports!) here
      And his blog here:

      This may be part of the source of the 1997 change, and was written in 1991:

      "Section 5 (of the Criminal Law and Evidence Act 1968), the principal vehicle intended for the admissibility in evidence of statements from computers, is paramount in civil proceedings, ....

      "The most surprising feature of section 5 is that it makes no requirement that the originator of the information processed by the computer should have had, or even be reasonably capable of being supposed to have had, personal knowledge of the truth of that information. This seems quite extraordinarily lax, given that most computer error is either immediately etectable or results from error in the data entered into the machine. So widely has this been accepted that it has become institutionalized into the acronym "GIGO," or "garbage in, garbage out." "

      Yes, we all know about GIGO, but that's IF your input is wrong. What it overlooked - dismissed - is that the processing might be wrong whether or not the input is wrong.

    2. A further thought.

      The CEO responsible for this huge miscasrriage was Paula Vennells. Not only was she an ordained Anglican priest at that time (being also involved in the Church of England Ethical Investment Advisory Group), but when she left the Post Office she assumed a position as chair of a Health Trust! You literally could not make this stuff up!

      Personally I think that some of this stuff stems from the Post Office recruiting too much from the "outside", and not enough from experienced employees. There have been recruitments in (relatively) recent times from Coca Cola and even from the FA!!! Ms Vannells had a background in the cosmetics, electronics and alcohol industries.


Thank you for reading the blog and commenting: please use an identity (name or pseudonym) rather than being Anonymous; it helps us to know which 'anonymous' comments are from the same person to avoid confusion. Comments are moderated to avoid spam, but will be published as soon as possible.