.

Our first working paper on the Post Office Project sets out concerns raised about the conduct of Group Litigation brought against Post Office Limited (POL) by Sub-Post Masters and Mistresses. It highlights concerns about the overall strategy and conduct of POL, Fujitsu employees, and the lawyers involved on their behalf. A copy of the paper is available here:

Our second working paper is a comment on the official Horizon Inquiry’s provisional list of issues. A copy of the paper is available here:

For more information on our Post Office Project, please see below.

Request for documents

We are currently collating available documents on the events surrounding the Bates and Hamilton cases as part of the research project described below. If you have documents which you would like to ensure we have, please email postofficeproject@exeter.ac.uk.

Project background

The Hamilton and Bates cases raised a number of concerns relating to governance and management at the Post Office (and Fujitsu), the conduct of their lawyers, and the operation of the criminal and civil justice systems, including criminal defence practice.

The case offers a seminal opportunity to examine important issues in corporate governance; criminal justice; and professional regulation, as well as government and parliamentary accountability.  The outpouring of concern that the scandal has prompted reveals a desire for change which needs to be maintained and harnessed.

We will be examining issues raised by the cases, deepening the evidence base on them, and working to ensure that identified concerns are taken seriously by regulators, policy makers and others able to affect change. As lawyers and legal educators, we want to ensure lawyers and law students hear the stories of the victims and learn about their mistreatment; but we also want to see rules and practices change, where appropriate, to make unethical behaviour less likely to happen in the first place and more likely to be punished when it does.

We have established a research team with expertise in lawyers’ ethics (Moorhead); miscarriages of justice (Helm); and organisational culture and ethical behaviour (Nokes) to take this work forward.

Research plan

Our plan initially is to review existing evidence to identify and analyse evidence of corporate and institutional failure, professional ethics failures, and systematic problems in the criminal justice system that led to Bates and Hamilton. We see the issues to be investigated by us as including:

  • The design, execution, and enforcement of contracts.
    • The conduct of investigations and prosecutions arising from Horizon (including charging, plea bargaining, disclosure and expert evidence failures, and the influence of shortfall recovery on approaches).
    • The conduct of appeals including post-conviction disclosure decisions.
    • The management of information about Horizon within and beyond the legal processes (e.g. submissions to Parliament and Government).
    • The handling of independent investigations, including those by Second Sight.
    • The role of legal professionals and their advice in the management and representation of Horizon within and beyond the Post office.
    • The oversight of legal processes and information on Horizon’s flaws by the PO Board, including non-executive directors, and BEIS including the conduct of the Bates litigation and the Hamilton appeals.
    • Evidence of pressures to plead guilty for defendants, including potential sentencing inducements and over-charging.
    • Differences between the handling of Scottish and England and Wales cases.
    • Variability in sentencing decisions.

We will begin this job over the Summer months, scoping the available evidence base and writing a full submission to the Williams Inquiry and lawyers’ professional regulators, providing them with our preliminary views on the issues arising in the case. And we will begin to suggest areas of reform for criminal justice, professional regulation, corporate governance, and governmental accountability and work on how to change the behaviours and cultures that led to such injustice.

These are only our initial thoughts on the issues raised by the scandal that we think we can contribute to. We consider it critical to our project that we consult with and listen to others – victims and experts. We think there is particular value in learning from subpostmasters and others affected by the use of law against them in ways now shown to be an affront to the public conscience by the Court of Appeal.

funding and project team

The project’s initial work is supported by the ESRC, the University of Exeter, and LBC Wise Counsel.

Richard Moorhead is Professor of Law and Professional Ethics at the University of Exeter. He has written on In-House Lawyers Ethics, with Vaughan and Godhino, as well as a number of pieces on lawyers’ involvement in various corporate ethics scandals including at lawyerwatch.blog.

Rebecca Helm is the Director of the Evidence-Based Justice Lab. She works at the intersection of psychology, data science and law, and has written on pressures to plead guilty and themes in UK miscarriages of justice.

Karen Nokes is a lecturer in law at UCL. She is a qualified solicitor (non-practising) with significant experience in legal regulation prior to gaining her PhD from Alliance Manchester Business School. Her doctoral research examined how lawyers navigate and reconcile competing institutional logics when faced with ethical dilemmas in practice.

Project Advisory Board

Tony Edwards – A leading criminal defence practitioner, recently retired. He is author of Blackstone’s Magistrates’ Court and Police Station Handbooks and (with Roger Ede) Criminal Defence: Good Practice in the Criminal Courts (Law Society 2017); and a former member of the Sentencing (Guidelines) Council.  

Paul Gilbert – Paul was a General Counsel for Cheltenham and Gloucester and now runs LBS Wise Counsel, specialising in In-house mentoring and leadership training. 

Mehrunnisa Lalani, Director Of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (Interim) at Manchester University. Lay Partner, Health Education England; Leicester City Council Independent Renumeration Panel, Independent Member; United Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, Non Executive Director;, Leicestershire and Rutland Police and Crime Panel, Independent Member. Mehrunnisa has also worked for the SRA. 

Joan Loughrey – Professor of Law, University of Leeds. Joan researches accountability and regulation in the context of the legal profession and corporate governance; director’s duties, particularly the duty of care; and corporate litigation, with particular expertise in the corporate sector of the profession and large law firms, and in legal professional regulation. 

Iain Miller – Solicitor, Partner, Kingsley Napley. Iain specialises in legal ethics, investigations, and public law matters.     He is General Editor of the leading textbook on legal services regulation, Cordery on Legal Services. 

Professor Dominic Regan. CPR expert trainer and consultant, Solicitor (Non-Practising), Professor of Law at City University. He has served as consultant to government, businesses, and law firms and as an adviser to Sir Rupert Jackson, the Court of Appeal judge responsible for leading civil justice reform.  

Jago Russell – Jago is a qualified solicitor in England & Wales, practising in the field of criminal defence as a partner with Boutique Law from Autumn 2021. Until October 2021, Jago was Chief Executive of the international non-profit, Fair Trials, overseeing the organisation’s expert work on a wide range of criminal justice issues such as its advocacy for fair trial protections in the context of guilty pleas. Prior to joining Fair Trials, Jago worked at Liberty and in the UK Parliament, advising amongst other things on the fair trial implications of proposed legislation. 

John Sutherland – John Sutherland is a senior adviser at the FCA, specialising in corporate governance and culture. His executive career was in UK retail banking before becoming a special adviser to the Bank of England and joining the audit committee of the EIB. He is an Honorary Fellow at the University of Exeter. 

Professor Alan Paterson OBE,FRSE, FRCP Edin,  FRSA, FAcSS – leading researcher on judges, lawyers, and access to justice. Most germane of his many roles, he is Director of the Centre for Professional Legal Studies at Strathclyde University (Scotland’s first think tank on Access to Justice and the legal profession), is the Law Society of Scotland’s Examiner in Professional Ethics, and sits on several Regulatory committees of the Law Society of Scotland.

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