The government should foot the legal bill for the mammoth Post Office trial, MPs said today, claiming most of the £57.75m settlement will go to lawyers rather than sub postmasters.
Speaking at a debate in Westminster Hall about the wrongful convictions of Post Office workers, Labour's Karl Turner MP said: ‘The Post Office is a business effectively wholly owned by the government. None of us should be arguing whether lawyers should be paid for bringing litigation on behalf of these victims, but shouldn’t the government step in to ensure all of those lawyers’ fees are paid by government?’
Lucy Allan MP, who called the debate, said Turner made a ‘very important point’, adding: ‘It’s a disgrace that there is unlikely to be sufficient monies left over after legal costs even for those who had money extracted from them after their tills didn’t balance. Even that money may not be refunded.’
A fellow MP said the size of the costs bill brought 'the whole process of mediation into disrepute’.
The Bates v Post Office group litigation, which dragged on for over three years, was settled for £57.75m in December. By October the parties had run up legal bills of more than £35m, prompting a warning that some costs appeared excessive.
According to Allan, the Post Office initially said the money was to be awarded to sub postmasters themselves but ‘this was not the case’. The company ‘really needs to stop putting obstacles in the way of justice,’ she added.
It was confirmed yesterday that the House of Commons Business Select Committee will be starting an enquiry next week to investigate the scandal. The committee said it will take evidence from Post Office bosses, government ministers and sub postmasters.