Lawyers who worked for Post Office amid Horizon scandal are under investigation

Post Office scandal
Post Office scandal

More than 20 investigations are ongoing into solicitors and law firms that worked for the Post Office in cases linked to the Horizon IT scandal, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has said.

The SRA is investigating the strategy and conduct used by Post Office or Royal Mail Group solicitors during the period that saw hundreds of subpostmasters wrongly prosecuted.

More than 700 subpostmasters were handed criminal convictions between 1999 and 2015 when errors in the Post Office’s Horizon IT system meant money appeared to be missing from many branch accounts when, in fact, it was not.

It has been branded the biggest miscarriage of justice in British legal history.

The SRA probe includes how solicitors handled the group litigation, led by Sir Alan Bates, that saw 555 subpostmasters take legal action against the Post Office and was the basis for the ITV series, Mr Bates vs The Post Office.

It is also looking at how legal privilege may have been misused to stop communications from being disclosed, and whether duties regarding expert witnesses were upheld.

The operation of the Post Office’s complaint review and mediation scheme is under investigation, too, including whether claimants were overcharged, non-disclosure agreements misused, and correspondence improperly labelled.

The scheme was developed after a 2012 probe into the Horizon system, and aimed to investigate concerns raised by subpostmasters about the reliability of the Horizon system, the Post Office said in a witness statement to the inquiry.

Paul Philip, the SRA’s chief executive, said: “The impact of this miscarriage of justice on so many individuals is tragic. We have live investigations into the actions of lawyers in these cases.

“Although the range of issues we are investigating is complex, the fundamentals are simple.

“The public expect solicitors to behave ethically. They must act independently and do the right thing in the interests of justice.

“We will take action where we find they have failed to do so. This is vital to protect the public, maintain trust in the profession, and send a clear message that any solicitor behaving unethically should expect serious consequences.

“We will act as swiftly as we can, but it is important that we get this right. We owe that to everyone impacted in this case and the wider public.”

Investigators have scrutinised tens of thousands of pages of information and evidence, the SRA said.

It said it would be in the “best position to take any meaningful action to get the right outcome” once the “all the relevant issues” have been aired in the inquiry.

Fines to solicitors and traditional law firms of up to £25,000 could be issued by the SRA, as well as controls on how they practise.

In more serious cases it can involve the independent Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal which has the power to issue unlimited fines and suspend or strike off solicitors.

However, the SRA said: “At the moment, we do not have evidence to show that any solicitor presents an ongoing risk to the public that needs to be addressed through urgent action.

“We will take action where we find evidence that solicitors have fallen short of the standards the public expects.

“Our investigation covers multiple, multifaceted issues where there may have been potential misconduct.

“As officers of the court, solicitors should never put other interests - such as the outcome for their client - above the law and the proper administration of justice.”