Statement of Chair in relation to the Inquiry’s work up to Easter of 2022
- On 17th November 2021 I published the List of Issues which the Inquiry will investigate. While the List is not closed and modifications to the List may become necessary as the work of the Inquiry unfolds, I anticipate that the List will remain substantially unchanged. That being so, it is now possible to provide a provisional indication as to the likely sequence of events in the Inquiry’s work over the remainder of the year and up to Easter of 2022.
- During the remainder of this year and throughout the period January 2022 to Easter 2022 Core Participants and Interested Parties may be served with requests under rule 9 of the Inquiries Rules 2006 for disclosure of documents and witness statements. The process of serving such requests is substantially underway already but there is undoubtedly a need to continue this process well into the New Year. I am hopeful that by Easter 2022 the Inquiry will have received a very substantial body of witness statements and documentary evidence.
- I propose to begin oral hearings in the week commencing Monday February 14 2022. These hearings will be concerned exclusively with the “human impact” suffered by those who have been and/or are still adversely affected by the Horizon IT System and the actions and decisions taken in reliance upon data produced by Horizon.
- Save for the possible exception mentioned in the next paragraph, these hearings will not be preceded by opening statements by the Core Participants or their recognised legal representatives. I doubt whether, by mid-February, a sufficient body of witness evidence or documentation will have been disclosed so as to permit of meaningful and detailed opening statements. Accordingly, opening statements will be made at a later stage of the Inquiry.
- The possible exception is that sub-postmasters (‘‘SPMs’’) or their recognised legal representatives may wish to introduce the evidence relating to human impact. I will make a decision nearer the time about whether that is to be permitted.
- At these hearings, I will hear oral sworn evidence. It will not be possible to hear oral sworn evidence from every person who has provided a witness statement about human impact and my aim will be to hear from a number of persons whose evidence fairly represents all the main adverse impacts described in the witness statements received by the Inquiry.
- My current intention is to hold as many of these hearings face to face as possible in a number of locations throughout England and Wales. My provisional view is that I will conduct hearings in London, Birmingham, a suitable venue in the North of England and Cardiff.
- I appreciate, however, that the situation in relation to Covid is now very fluid and that it may be necessary or desirable to conduct remote hearings as well as or in substitution for hearings face to face. I wish to make it clear that I would not want any potential participant in these hearings to feel that unless they appear face to face they cannot be heard. On the contrary I will, wherever possible, accommodate a potential witness or legal representative by holding a remote hearing if that is their preferred method of participation in hearings.
- A primary consideration is that these hearings should not be delayed beyond the start date mentioned above. Accordingly, I propose to be as flexible as is necessary as to whether hearings are in person or remote and the procedure to be adopted at the hearings so that the hearings will begin on schedule in February and continue smoothly until completed.
- If asked to do so by Core Participants or Interested Persons, I will also arrange sessions in which the participants provide information to the Inquiry about human impact in a less formal setting and without giving sworn evidence. The Secretariat is currently engaged in devising appropriate means by which information can be received by the Inquiry without the need for participants to give evidence on oath. I should make it clear, however, that these sessions will still be public sessions. As with the more formal hearings my current intention is that informal hearings will take place face to face. However, as with the formal hearings, if it becomes necessary or desirable, these hearings will be held remotely.
- Participants in less formal hearings should be aware that it is usually the case that unsworn evidence carries less weight than evidence given on oath. That said, I will take account of any information received in the more informal sessions which I consider to be reliable when formulating my conclusions and any recommendations about human impact.
- Finally, I wish to be open about my own position in relation to remote hearings. Since March 2020 I have engaged in court proceedings, disciplinary proceedings and arbitration proceedings which have all been conducted remotely. I have not found the decision-making process in any of these cases unduly hampered by reason of the hearings being remote as opposed to face to face. As no doubt most Core Participants and Interested Persons will know I live in South Wales. For family and personal reasons, I cannot commit to being physically present at every single face to face hearing that may take place throughout the Inquiry. Accordingly, there will be occasions when I will be conducting hearings remotely albeit lawyers and witnesses may be present in a hearing room together.
- I will make a further announcement in due course as to the timetable for all other public hearings.
Sir Wyn Williams
9 December 2021