The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) has extended its virtual meeting of commissioners reviewing subpostmaster applications to appeal criminal convictions linked to a faulty computer system.
The meeting, which began yesterday (24 March 2020), will continue into a second day, with details of when a further announcement will be made expected to follow quickly.
In January, the CCRC arranged the committee of commissioners meeting to consider subpostmasters’ applications to appeal against convictions for offences including theft that led to some being sent to jail. A recent High Court group litigation proved that faults in the Horizon IT system subpostmasters use in branches caused the losses they were prosecuted for.
The commissioners meeting looked in doubt due to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, with meetings being cancelled to avoid spreading the coronavirus, but went ahead as planned yesterday using Microsoft Teams collaboration software.
The CCRC said the meeting had been extended into today. “The committee is meeting [using Microsoft Teams] again today to continue with their deliberations,” said a CCRC spokesman.
Details of when a “substantive announcement” could be made is expected in the next couple of days.
The CCRC began reviewing 27 claims in April 2015. The number has increased to 61 since the conclusion of a High Court group litigation that proved the subpostmasters who blamed the Post Office’s Horizon computer system for accounting shortfalls were right, and that the Post Office was wrong to blame them. There were 58 cases being reviewed until a few days ago, when three more were added.
Subpostmasters were prosecuted by the Post Office for alleged crimes including false accounting and theft, when the Horizon IT system they used had recorded accounting shortfalls. Some went to prison and many had their lives ruined through lost businesses, ill health and huge fines.
Computer Weekly first reported on the problems with Horizon in 2009, when it made public the stories of a group of subpostmasters. Soon after this, as more subpostmasters came forward, Alan Bates, a former subpostmaster, formed the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance and began campaigning. Bates first contacted Computer Weekly in 2004, four years after he had first alerted the Post Office to the problems (see timeline below).
The Post Office reached a £58m out-of-court settlement with 555 subpostmasters and vowed to change its ways. This came after the judge who handled the case, Peter Fraser, slammed the way the Post Office had treated subpostmasters and its denials over the potential errors in Horizon causing account shortfalls.
According to a CCRC document, the calling of a committee signals a possibility of appeals being referred. CCRC guidance states: “If a referral for appeal seems possible, the case review manager (CRM) will put the results of their review to a committee of three commissioners. If it seems there is no prospect of a referral, the CRM will put it to a single commissioner.”