Monday 26 October 2020

Effective scrutiny of the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry

Sir Wyn Williams

Next month, the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry, chaired by retired High Court judge, Sir Wyn Williams, will issue a Call for Evidence.

On 5 October, in response to an email about what it intends to do with that evidence, the inquiry secretariat laid out a number of points. On oral evidence, it said:

"The evidence taken will not be transcribed, but a thorough record of the Inquiry’s progress will be kept and reflected in the final Report." [my emphasis]

And with regards to all the evidence, the secretariat said Sir Wyn Williams' final report:

"will refer to evidence it has relied on, but the Inquiry will not publish the evidence it has received, it will provide a thorough summary of the Inquiry’s findings." [my emphasis]

I replied, expressing my concern, and I forwarded the secretariat's email to a number of parliamentarians who sit on the All Party Parliamentary Group on Post Offices. 

On 13 October, the business minister, Paul Scully, met with the All Party Parliamentary Group. Lord Arbuthnot expressed his disquiet at the inquiry's position. 

On 18 October, I wrote a short piece about the inquiry's clearly stated decision on publishing and transcribing evidence.

On 20 October, I received an email from Sir Wyn Williams stating:

"I plan to make an announcement on or before 6th November about the approach the Inquiry will take to collecting evidence. I am content to receive written representations from you and other journalists by 17:30 on Friday 23rd October 2020. I will consider these representations and... When I make my decision about the process I will acknowledge any representations that have been made."

On 22 October, Mr Scully wrote to Lord Arbuthnot. He said:

"Sir Wyn has been working to develop his approach. I can confirm that to my knowledge he has made no statement about an intention not to publish evidence."

This is only true if:

a) Mr Scully was not aware of the inquiry secretariat's email and my publication of its key points 

b) he considers an email to a journalist from the inquiry secretariat stating unequivocally that "the Inquiry will not publish the evidence it has received" is different to a statement from Sir Wyn himself.

Sir Wyn has now received representations from a number of media organisations - including the Press Association, BBC, Daily Mail, Financial Times, Computer Weekly and Private Eye - all of whom are requesting proper access and the ability to scrutinise evidence.

It will be interesting to see if the inquiry's current position, as stated by its secretariat at the beginning of this month, evolves. 


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