Protocol on the disclosure of documents
This Protocol replaces the Statement of Approach 002: Information handling and publication approach issued by the non-statutory Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry on 6 April 2021 and all other statements or directions given by the non-statutory inquiry as to the disclosure of documents, handling of information and redaction. It applies to information requested by the Inquiry at any time after the conversion of the inquiry to a statutory inquiry on 1 June 2021.
1. This Protocol sets out the approach that will be taken by the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry (Inquiry) to the disclosure of documents to the Inquiry.
2. The purpose of this Protocol is to ensure that providers of documents (PoDs) understand the Inquiry’s procedures for (a) the provision of documents and the handling of such documents; and (b) prompt delivery of documents to the Inquiry in the correct form.
3. The procedures outlined below are not intended to cover every eventuality or every procedural issue that may arise. It follows that, where the interests of justice and fairness require it, the Inquiry may need to depart from this Protocol. Further, this Protocol may be amended from time to time, in which case an amended version will be published on the Inquiry website.
4. In this Protocol:
“document” means anything in which information of any description is recorded, whether in paper or in electronic form. It will include but is not limited to, contract documents, governing/constitutional documents, guides/codes of conduct, design plans, technical drawings, blueprints, reports, reviews, committee/board minutes, meeting/attendance notes, manuscript notes, memoranda, letters (including fax), leaflets, circulars, emails (internal and external), legislation, policy documents/statements, witness statements, photographs, video and audio recordings and physical evidence.
“Provider of documents” (PoD) means any person, institution or organisation, which has been asked to provide documents to the Inquiry or which has provided documents voluntarily to the Inquiry. For the avoidance of doubt, it includes Her Majesty’s Government and any Department of State or Minister of the Crown.
Provision of Documents to the Inquiry
5. The Inquiry requests anyone who holds relevant documents to supply those documents to the Inquiry. Any person who is in possession of relevant documents and who is not approached by the Inquiry should contact the Inquiry Secretariat so that the necessary arrangements can be made for receipt of those documents.
6. Wherever possible the Chair intends to rely on voluntary co-operation for production to the Inquiry of the documents he considers necessary to fulfil his Terms of Reference.
7. The Chair will normally make a request for voluntary production of documents by means of a letter from the Solicitor to the Inquiry to the person believed to have custody or control of them (i.e. a request under Rule 9 of the Inquiry Rules 2006). The Chair expects that all parties to whom a request of this kind is addressed will co-operate with the Inquiry and will provide all relevant material without the need for him to exercise his powers of compulsion of documents or evidence. However, the Chair will consider exercising those powers if the response to such or any later request is, for example, refused, or incomplete, or not provided by the stated deadline.
8. PoDs, including legal representatives, should provide documents requested by the Chair, together with any other documents they consider to be relevant to the Inquiry’s Terms of Reference, without delay and within the time limits specified by the Inquiry in any relevant request.
9. PoDs are expected to undertake comprehensive, thorough and rigorous searches in response to a request for documents. PoDs should keep a detailed written record at the time of the search that will enable them to complete a Disclosure Statement (see paragraph 18 below). This will apply whether the request is contained in a request under Rule 9 of the Inquiry Rules 2006, or a notice issued under section 21 of the Inquiries Act 2005, or otherwise.
10. All documents provided to the Inquiry must be originals or, if the original is not available, the best available copies, intact and in unredacted form, save when the Redaction Protocol applies.
11. All documents should be provided electronically where possible. The Inquiry will be using an online document management system and electronic documents should be provided either in their native format, for example, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, MSG email files/PST email containers.
12. All electronic documents must be provided in a format that is text-searchable, where possible.
13. Where hard copy documents are provided, these should be digitised beforehand wherever possible. If the document is mainly text based, this should be scanned in black and white and should only be scanned in colour where it is critical to the legibility of the document. Scanning settings should be set to 300 dpi (number of dots per inch as scanned) for both black and white and colour documents.
14. All document productions should be accompanied by an inventory listing the documents that have been provided to the Inquiry.
15. The Inquiry, being a public inquiry, seeks to be as transparent as possible. This means that it expects to disclose material to core participants and may (regardless of disclosure to any person) seek to use such material as part of its body of documentary evidence to which reference may be made by its experts or in its reports and as such may form part of the Inquiry record. A separate Redaction Protocol addresses issues of redaction and the withholding of certain documents.
Material changes or updates to Documents
16. In relation to any document provided to the Inquiry by a PoD, the PoD should inform the Inquiry of any material change or update to that document occurring after the date of its provision to the Inquiry of which it becomes aware, and provide the updated document. This will apply whether the document was provided in response to a Rule 9 Request, or a notice issued under section 21 of the Act, or by way of voluntary disclosure.
17. The PoD will inform the Inquiry of the change within 21 days after it is made, and may choose to inform the Inquiry periodically of such changes rather than on a document-by-document basis.
18. The Inquiry may request a signed disclosure statement if it deems the same to be necessary. The purpose of such a statement will be to confirm a PoD’s search methodology, to provide clear assurance that the Inquiry’s request has been met so far as is reasonable in all of the circumstances and to explain, so far as can be ascertained, what has become of any information which cannot be produced (including, where possible, identification of the last person known to have had access to documents that are no longer held).
Issued under the authority of the Chair on 28 July 2021