Sir Wyn gives determination on Post Office disclosure failings
Chair announces section 21 notices and further disclosure hearing
Sir Wyn Williams has announced today that all future Inquiry requests for evidence to the Post Office will carry a notice under Section 21 of the Inquiries Act 2005, which he said “carries a threat of a criminal sanction” (including a sentence of up to 51 weeks’ imprisonment).
The announcement follows an urgent disclosure hearing the Chair convened on Tuesday 11 July to address what he called “grossly unsatisfactory” disclosure failings by the Post Office.
After hearing submissions from legal representatives of former sub-postmasters, the Post Office and the National Federation of SubPostmasters, Sir Wyn decided to postpone hearing from witnesses due to give evidence in weeks commencing 10 and 17 July 2023, until relevant disclosure was complete. He writes: “I was clear in my mind that this represented the best way forward both in relation to evidence gathering but also, ultimately, in relation to the most efficacious use of the Inquiry’s time.”
Sir Wyn has also today issued further Directions to the Post Office, which state that he will hold a further disclosure hearing on 5 September 2023 at 10:00am. He said Post Office’s General Counsel, Ben Foat, will be required to attend to give further evidence and Sir Wyn will determine who, if anyone else, should give evidence after making further enquiries of the Post Office as to the identity of senior persons who are directly and substantially involved in the disclosure for Phase 4 of the Inquiry.
He also said it is probable that from now on he will treat the issue of disclosure as he has treated the issue of compensation, by holding regular discrete hearings. He anticipates disclosure hearings will be held at regular intervals throughout the remainder of the Inquiry.
In his determination, Sir Wyn says “I stress, of course, that holding such hearings should be unnecessary and they will, inevitably, impact upon the smooth running of the Inquiry, and will impact on the work of all Core Participants and the Inquiry team.”
He said the hearings have become necessary, because of the “significant failures in disclosure on the part of the Post Office”.
The Chair also noted that in oral submissions on behalf of former or current sub-postmasters, there was no attempt to disguise the view held by many that the Post Office disclosure failings are deliberate.
He added “It does not surprise me that this is the attitude of many former sub-postmasters. After all, a failure to disclose crucial information about Horizon was a central finding leading to the quashing of criminal convictions in the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) and the Crown Court and failures of disclosure in the litigation between Bates and others v Post Office Limited were highlighted by the Honourable Mr Justice Fraser in both his substantive judgments in that case (being Judgment (No.3) ‘Common Issues’ and Judgment (No. 6) ‘Horizon Issues’).”
While he said he is determined to be open minded and at this stage it is not possible to offer definitive views about how the process of disclosure had been managed, he said “It would be remiss of me to fail to guard against the possibility that there are those who are engaged in the process of disclosure of documents on behalf of the Post Office who are unwilling or unable to comply strictly with requests for disclosure of documents made of them by the Inquiry and/or are unwilling to ensure strict compliance with requests under rule 9 of the Inquiry Rules 2006 and/or s21 Inquiries Act 2005.”
Read Sir Wyn’s full determination and Directions here.
The Inquiry will be resuming on 26 July 2023 to hear evidence in respect of its first in-depth look at action taken against a subpostmaster by the Post Office. View the timetable.