Post Office scandal demands a reset of our justice system

Marina Hyde’s article on the Post Office scandal (After 20 years, here’s why the Post Office scandal is special: the cover-up is happening in plain sight, 18 July) provided an excellent explanation of its appalling history and consequences. However, it did not highlight one major aspect that requires full investigation and the production of recommendations.

How could it happen that such a large-scale miscarriage of justice could occur without the criminal courts and its judges discovering it through the trial process? What mechanism, if any, existed for judges dealing with such cases to raise concerns outside the trial process itself? This was a miscarriage of justice that involved many of the same features that were present in the infamous miscarriages of justice of the past – non‑disclosure, a failure to understand or facilitate the investigation of scientific evidence, a casual assumption of guilt, and racism. Had these things been forgotten?

An emphatic restatement of the principle that a key function of the criminal process is to ensure that the innocent are not convicted seems overdue. Hopefully Sir William Blackstone’s ratio, “It is better that 10 guilty persons escape than that one innocent person suffer”, has not been eliminated from the collective memory by a tide of penal populism. If the current inquiry does not address the failings of the courts in this scandal, then that needs to be independently addressed elsewhere.
Nicholas Cooke KC
Newport

I was a subpostmaster for eight years, from 2006 to 2014, and lived in dread of every Wednesday’s “balance”. Despite my daily cash-up always balancing, doing the weekly balance invariably showed a shortfall – usually running to a few hundred pounds, which I was always lucky enough to be able to pay out of the minuscule profits from my village shop.

Whenever I called the helpline about this, I was told it was my mistake and that “everyone else balances”. So I stopped querying and just kept paying, in humiliation about being a qualified bookkeeper and being unable to balance my post office. I didn’t keep records of how much money I paid Post Office Ltd – I just paid what the Horizon system claimed that I owed.

I am incandescent with rage at the scandal – and that’s not the only way that Post Office Ltd abused its subpostmasters. It has absolutely zero regard for us and the way it treated us should raise red flags on any number of issues.
Ingrid Jones
Cambridge

The appalling treatment of our subpostmasters by the Post Office as a result of the failure of its own IT systems does not just shame the executives who blamed their employees rather than admit their own errors. The prosecution of hundreds of people whose only common connection was to work for the same employer should have rung alarm bells somewhere in our system of justice.

The scandal highlights the inherent failings of a judicial system where each case involving these similar offences was brought to court and considered by judges and juries in isolation.

Equally, consideration might also have been given to such a heavy reliance on the same source of evidence, ie a single IT system. What’s more, this “witness”, being a system rather than a person, seems to have been ineffectively interrogated to establish its reliability. Like so many systems, what our legal system is most blind to are the systemic failings, not only of other systems, but of itself.
Timothy Craven
Dorchester, Dorset

Well done for keeping this scandal alive when so many want it swept under the carpet. I share Marina’s hope that the Post Office executives responsible will soon find themselves in prison, to be joined there by water company bosses for the criminal neglect of our water supply infrastructure.
Elizabeth Wardle
New Barnet, London

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