- 📮 The Post Office scandal: Explained
📮 The Post Office scandal: Explained
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M&A is at a 10-year low
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Linklaters is making transatlantic moves
Pinsent Masons is popping up in Abu Dhabi
Why your textbooks are highlighted so much
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📮 The Post Office scandal: Explained
🚨 Since this article was written, the situation with this story has developed. Make sure you read the “UPDATE” section at the bottom of this report which includes this.
What's going on here?
The UK Post Office prosecuted 736 sub-postmasters (the individuals in charge of local post offices) based on incorrect data from their computer system. This has led to ongoing legal battles and police investigations.
What does this mean?
Between 1999 and 2015, the UK Post Office prosecuted 736 sub-postmasters. These individuals were convicted of crimes like false accounting and theft based on wrong information from their computer system, called Horizon.
Many of these people had their lives ruined — some were imprisoned, some suffered heavy financial damage.
After 20 years of campaigning (and a recent TV series on ITV) the court said the cases had to be reconsidered. But, even now, not all of the convictions have been overturned and many of the innocent victims have still not received any compensation.
The Metropolitan Police is now conducting an investigation into potential fraud offences committed by the Post Office related to these prosecutions.
Who made the faulty software?
Horizon, the faulty software, was built by Fujitsu, a Japanese company. It helps with tasks like accounting and stocktaking — and it’s still used by the Post Office now (although they say it’s been fixed).
So, what happens to the wrongfully convicted postmasters now?
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has called this an "appalling miscarriage of justice".
The UK government will have to fix it, and fast. The 3 options they have are:
📜 A one-off new law: Parliament could pass new legislation that clears all those who were wrongfully convicted. But there’s a challenge because government and the courts are meant to be completely separated (you might have covered the “separation of powers” in your lectures). So, the judicial process shouldn’t ever be interfered with for political reasons — if it is, it opens up the door for other politicians to do this in the future, and undermines judicial independence.
👑 Royal pardons: Another option could be for the King to issue royal pardons to the hundreds of wrongly accused sub-postmasters, but this would be a symbolic act, and would not overturn their convictions — only the Court of Appeal (CoA) can do that. The innocent postmasters would still be considered criminals by law, so it’s probably not a good enough solution.
⏩️ Speed-up the appeals process: A third option would be to speed up the existing appeals within the judicial system. This would involved the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) — an independent body which reviews cases where people believe they have been wrongly convicted. They’d have to send a bunch of cases to the CoA in one go and then the CoA would have to exonerate multiple people at the same time. The issue is that the CCRC applies a controversial and strict legal test which essentially tries to guess what the CoA will rule — its critics say it too often rejects pleas for help that it should let through.
Will they get compensation?
Yes, the Post Office is offering £600,000 compensation to each postmaster who was wrongfully convicted.
What’s the big picture effect?
This story’s less about the legal industry and more about the justice system (although some of the lawyers who were historically involved are being criticised for having played a part in this).
The Post Office scandal has been called the ‘biggest miscarriage of justice’ ever in the UK — many are asking why it took a TV series for the government to finally take the issue seriously!
There are a lot of eyeballs on how the government and courts handle this in a way that’s fair, quick and without opening up the door to future bad acts from the government.
Since this article was written, it’s now been made clear that the government has gone with ‘option 1’ listed above — they’ve announced that a new law will be proposed to exonerate all the postmasters. The Prime Minister also announced that upfront compensation of £75,000 will be awarded to the postmasters.
This process will take weeks to implement.
A BIT OF FUN 😄
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