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PostPosted: Wed Jan 10, 2024 4:53 am 
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Not really sure if this should be posted here, or maybe in the general section, of even politics...

But was thinking about this sort of stuff in Grandad's thread about a council's/licensing committee's jurisdiction over an unlicensed driver, and a criminal prosecution as opposed to a quasi-judicial appearance before the committee.

(Spent ages looking for that topic, when suddenly realised it wasn't in the 'legal and licensing' section, and was actually in the 'general' section. Don't you just love the generic thread titles when you're trying to find one - 'What's this all about?'; 'Is this legal?'; 'Have a look at this', sort of thing :? )

Anyway, no doubt some will have noticed in the news recently that the Post Office was responsible for many of the criminal prosecutions in the Horizon IT scandal :-o

But like the RSPCA, and taxi licensing authorities with regard to stuff such as unlicensed drivers and disabled/guide dog access, the Post Office could undertake its own criminal prosecutions in the courts, which it obviously did on an industrial scale.

Of course, the 'taxi' trade is a bit different, and even the worst licensing authorities can't be compared to the Post Office thing. But a lot of the quasi-judicial licensing committee stuff is of course questionable in terms of 'kangaroo courts' and suchlike, and some of the prosecutions for guide dog refusals, for example, often smack of low level show trials :-|

But back to the article itself, and this stuff about the Post Office could perhaps has lessons for the licensing authorities, in particular the highlighted paragraphs below. (After that the piece is really more general political stuff, but still worth a read.)


The Post Office Horizon scandal has shattered faith in British justice

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2024/0 ... h-justice/

One of the most shocking facets of this affair is how long it has taken for those wronged to receive redress

There is an old legal maxim stating that “justice delayed is justice denied” and it has rarely felt more apposite than in the case of the wronged sub-postmasters. They have been waiting 15 years or more for the legal and political machinery to crank into top gear to reverse one of the greatest miscarriages of justice of modern times.

It is not as though this scandal has popped out of nowhere. In the ITV dramatisation Mr Bates vs The Post Office, which has caused politicians hitherto indifferent to the scandal to fall over themselves in pursuit of proper redress, several of the sub-postmasters were prosecuted and jailed as long ago as 2000. A further 100 were prosecuted by 2002. The total now stands at more than 900, much of the evidence against them relying on the now discredited Fujitsu Horizon IT software.

Some pleaded guilty to fraudulent accounting or theft knowing they had not done anything wrong, but unable to prove their innocence against a corporate body that flatly refused to accept there might be something amiss with its computer systems. That in itself is a reversal of another great legal dictum: a defendant does not have to prove innocence; the Crown has to prove guilt.

But under a 350-year-old dispensation in England and Wales (though not Scotland or Northern Ireland), the Post Office exclusively brought its own prosecutions against its own staff to defend its own flawed IT system from scrutiny. This role dates to when the Royal Mail was a public authority and before it was split up, with the Post Office becoming a separate company.

At that point, it should have ceased private prosecutions, as it did in 2015. In a submission to a Commons committee examining the scandal, the Criminal Cases Review Commission questioned whether any organisation with the Post Office’s combined status “as victim, investigator and prosecutor” could take decisions “appropriately free from conflict of interest and conscious or unconscious bias”.

Not only was relevant evidence withheld from the defendants, but people who agreed to plead guilty to charges of false accounting did so on condition the theft allegations were dropped – even though there was no evidence of theft to begin with.

When the prosecuting side engages in obfuscation, cover-up and downright mendacity, the cards are stacked so heavily against the individual that convictions are inevitable. One sub-postmaster in the TV drama says that he placed his trust in the British justice system to arrive at the truth and establish his innocence, only to end up being found guilty and ordered to pay more than £300,000 in costs to the Post Office.


The deep-rooted, collective national sense that we live in a democracy underpinned by the rule of law, which, for all its flaws, is better than any other, has been shattered by the experience of these palpably decent people. Sure, there might have been the odd rotten apple milking the system; there always is. But most of these sub-postmasters were the pillars of their villages and communities. To hound them in this way was unconscionable and the country has rightly been moved to anger by the TV drama to demand justice.

But that may be a while coming. It is not as though nothing has been happening, after all. The Court of Appeal has already overturned dozens of convictions and a public inquiry is currently sitting to consider the role of Fujitsu’s Horizon IT system in the scandal. Indeed, it was established in September 2020 and yet some of the key participants, like former Post Office boss Paula Vennells and Fujitsu engineers, have yet to give evidence and some are demanding immunity if they do.

There are currently 15 public inquiries taking place, some concerning matters that happened even longer ago than the Post Office scandal. The inquiry into the infected blood given to haemophiliacs, causing HIV and hepatitis C, can be traced to events in the 1970s. Around 1,000 people died as a result but only small amounts of compensation have been paid out.

Ministers say they are awaiting the conclusion of the inquiry before giving a proper response. But other countries, also affected by the contaminated blood imports, reached settlements years ago. Why is it so slow here?

Among other inquiries still going on is one into the Grenfell Tower fire which happened almost seven years ago. How can it possibly take so long? Then there is the mother and father of them all, the Covid inquiry, which will be taking oral evidence until 2026. It would be a surprise to see its findings published before another pandemic hits.

One guaranteed result when legal arguments drag on is that the fees mount to stratospheric levels. In the Post Office case, a £57 million settlement for 550 claimants saw most of the money swallowed up by costs.
This raises more questions. Why should the taxpayer always fund the payments to right the wrongs that most of us had nothing to do with? MPs are for ever demanding compensation for this or that group to demonstrate their compassion, albeit with other people’s money.

Only in the past few days has it been suggested that Fujitsu, one of the world’s biggest IT companies, might actually cough up for this debacle out of its own coffers, just as BP had to pay for the clean-up of the Gulf Of Mexico after an oil spill.

It is astonishing how quickly the Westminster machine can spring into action when it feels the hot breath of the voters on its neck in an election year. Now there is even talk of an emergency law to enact a pardon for every single postmaster accused of misappropriating funds.

That would be unprecedented and could mean a few real crooks escaping the net; but another adage of English law, known as Blackstone’s ratio, applies here – that it is better for 10 guilty persons to go free than one innocent to be jailed.

Those responsible for this dreadful series of events are themselves now facing retribution. Mrs Vennells has handed back her CBE, but this is not enough. The real guilt should attach to those who wilfully abused the legal system to pursue people who were unable to defend themselves and denied the basic protections of the rule of law. Will they now be brought to book, or is justice to be denied once more?


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 10, 2024 4:53 am 
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Quote:
At that point, it should have ceased private prosecutions, as it did in 2015. In a submission to a Commons committee examining the scandal, the Criminal Cases Review Commission questioned whether any organisation with the Post Office’s combined status “as victim, investigator and prosecutor” could take decisions “appropriately free from conflict of interest and conscious or unconscious bias”.

That's a wee bit like why I think quasi-judicial licensing committees are problematic. Councils make the rules, enforce the rules, and can take a driver's livelihood from him (or the odd 'her'), and there's too much of an overlap between these various functions in individual authorities. They're judge, jury and executioner, sort of thing.


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 10, 2024 5:48 pm 
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In recent times the CPS has been doing all the criminal stuff for councils (and the RSPCA), and leaving the civil stuff for in-house lawyers. Stuff like house evictions and parents not sending their kids to school.

I agree that quasi-judicial licensing isn't perfect, and yes it is a case of the rule maker deciding on the rule breaker.

But is the alternative that rosy?

Do we want a driver that has overcharged a punter by a pound, or a driver whose car is filthy, or not wearing his badge, taken before the courts and prosecuted by the CPS?

Maybe a middle ground is a fixed penalty that can be appealed, but even that's not perfect IMO.

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 11, 2024 3:06 pm 
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I agree, to a large extent, Sussex, and was yesterday reading stuff about the RSPCA rethink a couple of years ago, and didn't know about the schools and housing stuff.

But I think we're slight at cross-purposes about trade regulation and the quasi-judicial stuff. Licensing needn't be all criminal as regards to wrongdoing, rule-breaking and punishment, but on the other hand I just don't think politicians should be so closely involved in the process, in particular as regards the sort of hybrid judge and jury body represented by licensing committees. I mean, people don't normally view councillors as *politicians* as such, but in essence that's what they are :-o

So to that extent, imagine people at work being hauled up before Boris Johnson- or Nicola Sturgeon-style figures, who then decide on guilt and innocence, effectively.

That wouldn't be tolerated in wider life, but seems it's fine for taxi and private hire drivers [-(

And it's not so much that it's quasi-judicial either - it's the fact that it's politicians lording over it all [-X

All sorts of trades, professions, sports and the like have disciplinary procedures that are far removed from the criminal process, and from the legal and court systems more generally, but when push comes to shove they can be reviewed by the courts. And, in that context, the internal or professional disciplinary procedures and the like are regarded as quasi-judicial.

So I don't have a problem with most of trade regulation being civil and quasi-judicial in nature, and not criminal, except in particular circumstances. My gripe is more about the structure and procedure of it all.

And another major shortcoming, in my opinion, is the 300+ different licensing authorities in the UK, and the resultant lack of consistency and uniformity, both with regard to quality control, and how breaches of rules and standards are dealt with.

But, and another parallel with the Post Office thing, is that there's little point arguing about the details of what should be done when it's effectively impossible to get people in positions of power and influence to acknowledge that there's even a problem in the first place :roll:


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 11, 2024 8:52 pm 
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To no doubt confirm your views on councillors being gamekeeper, poacher, judge, and jury, this article from the Argus does little to prove you are wrong. :roll:

https://www.theargus.co.uk/news/2404043 ... ing-buggy/

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 15, 2024 11:37 am 
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ex CEO of the CPS knew nothing abot 700 identical prosecustions...

(wants to the run the country......)

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-67950501

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 15, 2024 11:52 am 
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wannabeeahack wrote:
ex CEO of the CPS knew nothing abot 700 identical prosecustions...

(wants to the run the country......)

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-67950501

I doubt that the CEO of the CPS is aware of all that many cases that go through. He or she would be informed on "a need to know" basis. Specifically none of the post office cases ever went anywhere near the CPS because they were all prosecuted by the post office themselves.
I wonder how many other cases ther are of people being taken to court without the CPS being aware. We know that Councils can do it.

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 15, 2024 12:08 pm 
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Not sure precisely how it works, but as people in the know are saying, when Keir Starmer was Director of Public Prosecutions/head of the Crown Prosecution Service, he could have intervened to stop the prosecutions.

And it's not as if it wasn't well known. Pretty sure I remember reading about it late last century/early this century, and anyone who read newspapers avidly back then (the financial pages in particular) would have been aware of the problems with the software. According to Wikipedia: "In 2000, there were six shortfall convictions that relied on Horizon data. Forty-one subpostmasters were prosecuted in 2001, and 64 in 2002."

Seems highly unlikely that the CPS hasn't known for twenty years or so what was going on. Effectively, they just let the Post Office get on with it.


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 15, 2024 12:14 pm 
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Plenty of stuff online about this, but according to this the CPS had at least some involvement in up to 99 prosecutions:

(Not sure if others can read this - Telegraph stuff normally paywalled, so you can normally only read a few lines without a subscription, but I can read the whole of this article.)


CPS involved in up to 99 Post Office prosecutions, leaked letter shows

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2024/0 ... secutions/

Scale of possible Horizon cases outlined in document is much higher than 11 the service has confirmed it prosecuted


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 15, 2024 12:19 pm 
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Another one with highly selective memory, it would seem. Just read the headline and the final paragraph - surely some contradiction? :-s

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 15, 2024 8:36 pm 
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I'm delighted that many chickens are coming home to roost. This whole saga is an absolute disgrace, and someone in authority should have seen and acted on this long long long ago.

But when you listen to the chief investigator talk at the inquiry, it's not surprising to me that so many people got falsely accused by the Post Office.

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