Sir Wyn Williams issues Directions ordering Post Office to rectify failures to supply evidence
The Chair of the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry has issued formal Directions to the Post Office, requiring that the company urgently supply documents identified as part of a disclosure “remediation” exercise it is undertaking.
The intervention from Sir Wyn Williams follows oral evidence from Post Office’s General Counsel, Ben Foat, and correspondence from the Post Office this week, which revealed serious failings in the company’s disclosure of evidence to the Inquiry, leading to the postponement of a significant evidence session.
Sir Wyn Williams said: “The issues that Mr Foat’s evidence has uncovered are of obvious concern to me, particularly given the commencement of Phase 4 hearings. I am dissatisfied by the approach that has been taken by the Post Office; in my view, their approach demonstrates a lack of clear thinking about the disclosure obligations owed to the Inquiry with which the Post Office must comply and the means by which their obligations can be fulfilled.”
He added: “It is not sufficient to comply with the obligation to produce or provide documents pursuant to section 21 Inquiries Act 2005 and/or rule 9 of the Inquiry Rules 2006 to simply state a desire or commitment to provide disclosure of documents that relate to a matter in question at an inquiry.”
He said that responding to a request for documents or information is about more than just devising search terms – it requires a common-sense approach and, in some circumstances, an understanding of a document provider’s corporate history, key personnel and document archives, and considering documents in their full context.
Sir Wyn pointed to the postponement of Mr Jenkins’ oral evidence yesterday, and explained that the late disclosure of documents "has the potential to jeopardise the smooth running of the Inquiry”, causing inconvenience to witnesses, Core Participants, the Inquiry team and the public at large.
He continued: “It wastes public funds, it delays the provision of answers to those who were affected and delays the learning of lessons through the recommendations that I will in due course make.”
The Chair has therefore issued Directions which require that any documents that relate to a Phase 4 witness that are disclosed as a result of the Post Office’s remediation of search terms, family documents or de-duplication issues (as the case may be) must be provided to the Inquiry as follows:
1. For all witnesses who are due to give oral evidence to the Inquiry up to and including 28 July 2023, no later than 2 clear working days before the date on which that witness is due to give evidence.
2. For future phase 4 witnesses, no later than 14 August 2023 (the Inquiry will shortly publish an indicative timetable).
Sir Wyn said “as noted by Mr Beer KC, while disclosure obligations fall on all document providers, the Post Office’s disclosure obligations in this Inquiry are further heightened. This makes the errors highlighted by Mr Foat’s evidence all the more inexcusable and unacceptable.”
The Chair said that the Post Office, and other document providers, should be in no doubt that he will take any further delay caused by late or non-disclosure of relevant documents extremely seriously: “I will not hesitate to continue to call those responsible to give evidence to the Inquiry to account for any failings.”
Read the Directions here.