Former subpostmasters successfully appealed against their convictions for theft, fraud and false accounting, all of which were due to computing errors.There were 42 appeals. Three of the appeals were fully opposed by the Post Office, The judgment was handed down on Friday 23rd April and the Court found that all 39 unopposed appeals were unsafe and convictions were quashed. In respect of the 3 opposed appeals, the Court found that the convictions were safe.
Zoe Johnson QC represented the Post Office at the hearing having been engaged to review and consider decisions that had previously been made. In the preceding year leading to the hearing, Zoe Johnson QC worked alongside Sir David Calvert-Smith of QEB Hollis Whiteman and Brian Altman QC of 2 Bedford Row, along with a team of junior barristers from both chambers, reviewing over 900 historical prosecutions conducted by the Post Office Ltd. All parties were instructed by Nick Vamos and Hannah Laming of Peters & Peters LLP.
In a 15-year period from 2000, more than 900 postmasters were prosecuted after the Horizon IT system installed by the Post Office, and supplied by Fujitsu, falsely suggested there were cash shortfalls. The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) referred the cases of 42 former subpostmasters to the Court of Appeal last year, after Post Office lost a civil case brought by subpostmasters. A high court judge found the Fujitsu-developed Horizon system contained “bugs, errors and defects” and that there was a “material risk” shortfalls in branch accounts were caused by the system. The Post Office settled the civil claim brought by more than 550 claimants for £57.75m, without admitting liability, in December 2019. Last year the Post Office apologised for what it called historical failings and said the organisation would cooperate with the CCRC, which referred the cases to the Court of Appeal.
There were 42 appeals with three of the appeals fully opposed by the Post Office, The Court found that all 39 unopposed appeals were unsafe and quashed the convictions. In respect of the 3 opposed appeals, the Court found that the convictions were safe.
Peters & Peters LLP were instructed in early 2020 to conduct a post-conviction disclosure exercise and the appeals. Neither Peters & Peters nor any of the counsel team instructed to conduct the disclosure exercise and appeals had any prior involvement in the conduct of the prosecutions that formed the basis of the appeals giving rise to the criticisms (nor in the High Court litigation).
The hearing was before Lord Justice Holroyde, Mr Justice Picken and Mrs Justice Farbey and lasted four days.
The matter has been reported widely in the press. See the report from The Guardian, here.