Tuesday 14 September 2021

The UnProsecution Machine

The Criminal Cases Review Commission has announced it has referred the cases of six more former Postmasters back to the courts, saying it thinks their prosecutions were an abuse of process.

Mohammed Aslam, Amanda Barber, Norman Barber, Anthony Gant, Balbir Grewal and David Hughes were all prosecuted at a magistrates' court, which means their appeals will be heard at Southwark Crown Court at a date yet to be confirmed.

The CCRC says: "All six applicants had pleaded guilty to offences in the magistrates’ court and as a result were prevented, by Statute, from appealing to the Crown Court in the usual way. The CCRC has decided that this amounts to “exceptional circumstances” that allow it to refer the cases despite the lack of earlier appeals."

Usually the CCRC will only deal with people who have already lodged a formal appeal, and it is relatively rare for someone who has pleaded guilty to get anywhere in the appeals process, either via the CCRC or direct through the courts. It is the extraordinary and "exceptional" nature of the Post Office's dodgy prosecution set-up which created the current environment, allowing those who both pleaded guilty and who did not appeal to make use of the CCRC's services.

This takes the total number of Post Office referrals made by the CCRC to 57, with the number of those 57 quashed so far being 47. One further referral to the Court of Appeal has yet to be heard and the CCRC currently has around 30 further Post Office cases under review. 

Taking into account the number of people who have gone to the Court of Appeal directly, there have now been 59 convictions quashed:

6 at Southwark Crown Court on 11 December 2020

39 at the Court of Appeal on 23 April 

2 at Southwark Crown Court on 14 May

12 at the Court of Appeal on 19 July

A further 4 appellants will not have their appeals opposed but they have yet to be formally overturned.

24 appellants' cases are currently being opposed by the Post Office and the CPS (acting on behalf of the DWP, who prosecuted at least four of the cases using Horizon evidence). 18 of those cases were discussed at the Court of Appeal on 19 July - the remaining six were part of a separate cohort who have yet to be discussed in an open hearing. 

The Post Office has requested further information on two outstanding cases before making a decision on whether or not to oppose their appeals.

It is expected that the 24 opposed appellants' cases (which may, on receipt of that further information become 26) will be heard by the Court of Appeal before Christmas. As the CCRC are looking at more applications and the Court of Appeal are receiving applicants directly, the number of appellants' cases examined at the forthcoming hearing could rise.

There is no hearing date for those who have been most recently referred. Their circumstances are as follows:

• Mohammed Aslam  pleaded guilty to false accounting at Newport Magistrates’ Court on 23rd January 2007 and was sentenced to 60 hours of unpaid work and a £300 fine. 

• Amanda Barber pleaded guilty to fraud by false representation at Warrington Magistrates’ Court on 6th June 2012 and was sentenced to 100 hours of unpaid work.

• Norman Barber also pleaded guilty to fraud by false representation at Warrington Magistrates’ Court on 6th June 2012 and was sentenced to 100 hours of unpaid work.

• Anthony Gant pleaded guilty to false accounting at Shrewsbury and North Shropshire Magistrates’ Court on 29th October 2007 and was sentenced to 6 months’ imprisonment suspended for 12 months and 100 hours of unpaid work.

• Balbir Grewal pleaded guilty to false accounting at Luton Magistrates’ Court on 13th August 2001 and was sentenced to a suspended sentence and a community order.

• David Hughes pleaded guilty to making a false instrument at Workington Magistrates’ Court and was sentence to a community order of 12 months and 100 hours of unpaid work.

Interim payments are landing - some are being refused

The Post Office says it has made 13 interim payments to those whose convictions have been quashed, ahead of a full settlement. The settlement scheme was announced by the government in July. The thirteen payments have all been for the maximum amount of £100,000, however the Post Office is already refusing to make any interim payments to some Subpostmasters (the majority of whom had their convictions overturned at Southwark Crown Court). This suggests the Post Office still believe some of the people who had their names cleared were, at the very least, not prosecuted maliciously.

Those whose payments have been refused are appealing the decision, and are therefore reluctant to go public just yet, but I suspect this is something campaigners in the House of Commons and House of Lords will wish to raise at the first opportunity. 

Historical Shortfall Scheme update

Another tranche of "small claims" applied for under last year's Historical Shortfall Scheme has landed. I am in touch with two serving Subpostmasters who lost similar sums to Horizon, both under £10,000. The Post Office as agreed to repay them, plus interest. 


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