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Post Office Scandal: Horizon Conviction Appeals

Advice and Guidance

We have brought together a highly-experienced team of lawyers working alongside campaigners and politicians who are committed to challenging unsafe convictions which came as a result of the Post Office Horizon IT Scandal.

Our support for those wrongfully convicted has been welcomed by the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance (JFSA), who were instrumental in a £58million damages settlement being awarded following a group action on behalf of 550 subpostmasters against the Post Office last year.

We have instructed one of the UK’s leading appellant barristers, Tim Moloney QC of Doughty Street Chambers, to support us in our work, alongside MP Karl Turner, to help all who were wrongly prosecuted appeal their convictions.

Supporting people wrongly convicted of crimes to take their cases to the Court of Appeal

It is thought as many as 500 people could have been wrongfully convicted and we are working alongside the Justice For Subpostmasters Alliance In seeking to challenge every unsafe conviction related to this case.

We are representing a number of people whose cases have already been referred to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC).

Below is some information on next steps and how to get in touch with us. We have also set out answers to the most common questions that are being asked of us at this time and link through to lots of useful articles which offer further information on our involvement.

Next Steps

If you were wrongfully convicted in relation and would like free initial legal advice, email postofficeappeals@hudgellsolicitors.co.uk

We are also supporting people who haven’t yet had any legal redress.

Find out more

Frequently Asked Questions

How was it possible for people to be wrongfully prosecuted?

The Post Office is a prosecuting authority in its own right and does not have to go through the Crown Prosecution Service. It was claimed as part of the High Court hearing that the Post Office made little effort to investigate cases and instead concentrated all its efforts on recovering the money.

Many were either convicted of offences or coerced into a guilty plea in the face of what seemed overwhelming evidence from an infallible IT system.
Have appeals started to be made?

Yes, the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), which investigates possible miscarriages of justice, has referred a first batch of convictions to the Court of Appeal. It is estimated that the total number of unsafe convictions will run into three figures. There have been reports as potentially being as many as 500.
Will all appellants require representation?

The short answer is yes.

Whenever the CCRC refers a case to the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division), the ‘reference’ by the CCRC may be treated as the ‘notice of appeal’ and any person whose case is referred is automatically granted permission to appeal. From that point on they will be an ‘appellant’ for the purposes of the proceedings and will have the benefit of a representation order. There are preliminary actions that need to be considered by each appellant following the reference by the CCRC and representation will need to be in place to deal with those.
Are cases best referred to the CCRC?

The means by which any person challenges their conviction or sentence is dependent on the previous history of the proceedings.

For those who have already gone through an unsuccessful appeal process in the Court of Appeal, their only option is to ask the CCRC to refer the case.

For those who have not previously appealed to the Court of Appeal (either because they pleaded guilty at trial or because they did not challenge their conviction after trial) they may appeal to the Court of Appeal directly.

The time limit for appeal against conviction is 28 days from the date of conviction so, plainly, they will need to make an application for permission to appeal out of time.

Once the clients provide basic information as to the history of their case, they can be advised accordingly.
Will appeals now be out of time?

Ordinarily yes, but in this case there is genuine reason for why people can appeal out of time.

In normal circumstances a person who wishes to challenge their conviction must submit grounds of appeal against conviction within 28 days of the verdict. The same applies for appealing sentences.

However, in this case, most, if not all, will be ‘out of time’ because they were simply not aware of the problems with the Horizon software system.

It is therefore highly likely to prove a sufficiently good reason for the Court of Appeal to grant the necessary extension of time to appeal.

There will obviously be many people who have gone to the CCRC for help with their cases. They don’t need to worry about time limits. If the CCRC refers a case, it doesn’t matter how long ago the conviction occurred.

However, others may now who wish to challenge their convictions because they were unaware of what has emerged in respect of the Post Office operating systems and they can now still do so through The Court of Appeal.

So, when their grounds of appeal against conviction are submitted to the Court of Appeal, they will also have to make an application for permission to appeal out of time.
Will it be successful? What are the risks?

Firstly, ‘Will it be successful’?

The Court of Appeal will quash a conviction if it is ‘unsafe’.

Obviously, each of the cases under consideration will be fact specific and it isn’t possible to give an assessment of the merits of any given case without knowing the facts.

However, as a basic example of how the process might work, if a person has been convicted of theft of an amount of money on the basis that software shows that amount of money to have been taken but it is subsequently shown that the money may not actually have been taken and it may only have appeared to have been taken because the software was unreliable, then that is a strong argument for saying the conviction is unsafe.

Secondly, ‘What are the risks?

If a person appeals to the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) and their appeal is unsuccessful, there can be no increase to their sentence or any other adverse consequences.
Are costs awarded for a successful appeal?
Ordinarily, no. But possibly so if the respondent is the Post Office and the outcome is successful.
Is Legal Aid available?

That will vary according to the proceedings.

As is set out in the first answer above, when a case is referred by the CCRC a representation order is granted (that is the Court’s term for legal aid).

For those who are appealing ‘out of time’ they will not have a representation order from the outset. If their application for permission to appeal is successful, they will then be granted a representation order.

In some cases, public funding will be available for any application for permission to appeal or the application may be privately funded.

Another possibility is “Crowdfunding” which we are currently investigating.
How long does the process take?

The process will be lengthy. Assuming that the appeals are contested, our view is that the Court will wish to set down a timetable for each of the appeals and may well have a directions hearing at which that timetable can be decided on.

It may be, for example, that the Court selects a number of the referred cases to deal with together as the first substantive appeal. Things will become clearer over time, but it is unlikely that any contested appeal will be finally determined before the end of this year.
If my appeal is successful what next?

It may be possible to seek damages. One obvious, potential claim would be for malicious prosecution. To succeed in a claim for malicious prosecution a claimant must show that;

a. He or she has suffered damage (such as loss of reputation, the loss of one’s liberty, the loss of one’s property, and financial loss);

b. The damage was caused by a prosecution brought against him or her;

c. The prosecution was ultimately concluded in the claimant’s favour;

d. There was an absence of reasonable and probable cause in bringing the prosecution; and,

e. The prosecutor acted maliciously, which means that he or she was motivated by something other than the desire to bring the claimant to justice. Malice covers not only spite and ill-will, but also improper motive.

There may also be other heads of claim in any damages action, such as false imprisonment, breach of human rights, or misfeasance in public office.

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