The chair of the statutory inquiry into the Post Office IT Horizon scandal has welcomed largely positive responses from key players over the release of advice and conversations with lawyers.

Sir Wyn Williams said the response from the Post Office went a ‘very long way’ towards meeting his request last week for waivers of legal professional privilege.

In a statement yesterday, Williams said all the institutions – the government, Fujitsu and the Post Office – had responded by Monday’s deadline.

On the Post Office specifically, it was ‘clear to me that in respect of many of the most crucial lines of investigation... [the Post Office] has waived legal professional privilege’. The responses were sufficient for Williams to cancel any further hearing on the issue this year, although he did not rule out asking for further submissions if necessary.

The Post Office response said the state-owned company was willing ‘as a general principle’ to give the inquiry access to materials created up to February 2020 that are relevant to the terms of reference and inquiry requests.

‘This will result in POL waiving privilege widely and the inquiry having extensive access to the privileged materials which will be of most assistance to the inquiry,’ the response added.

Releases would include documents relating to the civil and criminal proceedings brought by Post Office Limited against postmasters, managers and assistants who were alleged to have been responsible for shortfalls shown by the Horizon IT system. Dozens of these convictions were quashed in the Court of Appeal, with the prosecutions largely discredited and the IT heavily criticised.

The Post Office said it was still important and in the interest of fair process for it to be able to take legal advice and participate in current disputes and remediation activities with the protection of privilege and so ‘to a very limited extent’ it would need to maintain privilege.

The response added: ‘The issues that arise in these contexts are highly complex and, if POL is unable to protect its legal advice (unlike POL’s counterparties), its ability to resolve them fairly will be hampered or undermined.’

In a much briefer response, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy said it did not seek and had never sought to assert privilege over any relevant documents and was ‘happy’ to formally waive privilege it held over them.

The department added: ‘This accords with BEIS’s firm position that the inquiry should not be obstructed by the assertion of legal privilege in its important work to discover the truth and make recommendations so that the government, and the public, can be assured that nothing like the Horizon scandal can ever happen again.’

In a further statement on the terms of the inquiry, Williams said that conduct of group litigation by the Post Office and reliance upon legal advice will be two of the four key themes of his work. He agreed it was ‘essential’ the inquiry addresses the prosecutions and civil litigation for what advice was not heeded and where there was a failure to obtain advice.

Williams added: ‘I acknowledge that evidence may be obtained which might lead me to consider some aspects of the conduct of the lawyers instructed by and on behalf of POL.’


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