Post Office & Horizon inquiry – update
5 October 2020
The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee launched an inquiry into issues emerging from the Horizon IT Court cases; the Committee is likely to return to the issues raised once the Independent Review into the Post Office Ltd has been completed.
The BEIS Committee’s inquiry had been looking at the impact on sub-postmasters and its effect on the future viability of the Post Office, and examining the lessons the Government and Post Office Ltd have learned from a scandal which saw hundreds of sub-postmasters accused of fraud.
BEIS Committee Chair Darren Jones wrote to Paul Scully, Department for BEIS Minister, (letter dated 7 October 2020) in relation to the powers and mechanisms of the Independent Review into the Post Office Ltd Horizon IT system. The Minister responded in a letter on 14 October.
Speaking on Monday 5 October, on the same day as an Urgent Question in the House of Commons from Kevan Jones MP on the 44 Post Office prosecutions overturned by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, Darren Jones, Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, said: “It’s right that the Post Office has conceded, allowing the wrongful convictions of innocent sub-postmasters to be quashed. This is a landmark decision, but it is important the Independent Review has the powers it needs to play its part in getting to the bottom of this sorry story and help ensure it never happens again. This review is judge-led, which is welcome, but it needs to have the necessary powers to demand evidence and require witnesses to give evidence.
“Through the evidence hearing earlier this year and from follow-up correspondence, the BEIS Committee has looked at some of the concerns around the relationship between Post Office Ltd and the sub-postmasters and the impact this has had on the post-office network. We will be looking at the wider issues of how the Government acts as a stakeholder as part of our Industrial Strategy inquiry. At a later date, likely following the conclusion of the appeals process, we also intend to follow up on the direct issues raised by the Post Office and Horizon cases.”
The BEIS Committee has been mindful of the Justice Committee’s inquiry into private prosecutions and safeguards, in relation to the Post Office & Horizon. The Justice Committee decided to undertake an inquiry to examine the effectiveness of the safeguards in place to regulate private prosecutions in England and Wales. The Justice Committee published their report on 2nd October.
Background of BEIS Committee’s work on the Post Office
The BEIS Committee, in the 2017-19 Parliament, undertook an inquiry on the Future of the Post Office network (the Horizon case was live at that time and sub-judice so the Committee were unable to take specific evidence on that aspect) which made recommendations to the Government and the Post Office Limited.
In the current Parliament, the BEIS Committee has taken evidence on Post Office & Horizon but later planned sessions were cancelled due to the impact of Covid-19. The BEIS Committee followed up on the issues raised through correspondence from Darren Jones, BEIS Committee Chair, to a number of relevant parties.
The BEIS Committee later published letters from Nick Read, current CEO, Post Office Ltd, Paula Vennells. former CEO, and from Rob Putland, Senior Vice President, Fujitsu. At the time of publication (on 25th June), the Committee Chair commented, “…If the Government is really committed to taking action that delivers for the victims of this scandal it should bring forward a judge-led public inquiry”.
Darren Jones, BEIS Chair, also wrote to BEIS Minister Paul Scully on the independent review, following the Government’s announcement on 10 June in the House, saying “although the announcement was welcome, I am disappointed that it appears that the inquiry will not be judgeled or put on a statutory footing with subpoena powers to summon witnesses and compel them to give evidence under oath.”
On 9th July, the BEIS Committee held a session with the Secretary of State on the work of the Department and the Government’s response to coronavirus. This evidence hearing included questions on the Post Office & Horizon (q.593-6).