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Horizon Settlement: Future Governance of Post Office Ltd

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:32 pm on 19th March 2020.

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Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton 4:32 pm, 19th March 2020

It is a pleasure to speak in this important debate, and I am grateful to Mr Jones for bringing it forward and for his excellent speech.

One thing that we do well across this House is to stand up for David against Goliath. As many Members know, I have worked quite hard on similar issues in the banking sector, where, again, we see that David and Goliath issue. Members on both sides of the House stand up very well against Goliath on these occasions. I wonder whether our system does the same.

The issues that post offices face and the disgraceful treatment of sub-postmasters and mistresses have been highlighted very well here today. My question is: why have the courts not stood up for these people through these past 10 or 20 years? These matters have been before the court hundreds of times, yet the court has not found in favour of people who have been demonstrably innocent of the charges. That is not just what I think, but what Paul Marshall, a barrister at Cornerstone Chambers, says. He looked at these issues across the banking sector and in these cases and he finds that the courts are structurally biased in favour of large, trusted brands. That cannot be right. I was always brought up to believe that everybody could get justice. The rules of court require the courts to maintain a fair and level playing field, yet, as we know, the courts are open to all, just like the Ritz hotel. There is a structural imbalance between a sub-postmaster or mistress when they go to the courts and the phalanx of lawyers provided by the Post Office. The courts are used to suppress the truth, and that cannot be right. There have been 110 prosecutions. Back in 2007, in the case of the Post Office Ltd v. Lee Castleton, Judge Havery found that there was irrefutable evidence against Mr Castleton, despite the fact that there was no evidence. That was just his statement; there was no evidence that the Post Office was in the right.

We know that the Post Office knew that this was going on after the Second Sight report. The prosecutions stopped at one point, but of course they then carried on. We have seen similar issues at Lloyds bank, which knew back in 2007 that this stuff was going on, yet did nothing and carried on as if it was in the right until the case came to court 10 years later. It tried to discredit a whistleblower and the victims. The same happened at Royal Bank of Scotland.

We must ask questions of the system: of the Post Office, of course, about who knew what and when—I support the calls for a public inquiry and proper compensation—and of the solicitors who acted for the Post Office. There are some ethical issues here. The Solicitors Regulation Authority should look into the actions of Womble Bond Dickinson, which represented the Post Office in 2007. It knew about the Second Sight report yet continued to support the Post Office’s case. The same happened at Lloyds with Herbert Smith Freehills.

We must examine the system. The justice system—the judiciary, the Justice Secretary, the Civil Procedure Rule Committee—must learn lessons from this. Why should it take 12 years and £40 million in legal fees to get justice? That cannot be right. We must have a justice system that works for all.