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May 11th 2020

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Lawyer writes to administrators of Horizon Historical Shortfall Scheme calling for ‘standstill agreement’ over conviction appeals

Dr Neil Hudgell

Dr Neil Hudgell

Executive Chairman

Lawyer writes to administrators of Horizon Historical Shortfall Scheme calling for ‘standstill agreement’ over conviction appeals

Hudgell Solicitors executive chairman Neil Hudgell has written to the administrators of a new scheme which has been established to offer legal redress to victims of the Post Office Horizon Scandal – saying it fails to set out how their compensation will be determined.

Hudgell Solicitors executive chairman Neil Hudgell has written to the administrators of a new scheme which has been established to offer legal redress to victims of the Post Office Horizon Scandal – saying it fails to set out how their compensation will be determined.

Mr Hudgell, who has pledged to support potentially hundreds of former subpostmasters in seeking to have convictions for crimes such as theft and false accounting overturned, has also expressed concern over the deadline date of August 14 to apply.

He says that deadline will pass before many appeals are concluded over unsafe convictions related to discrepancies in Post Office accounts, many of which were caused by the faulty Horizon software used.

Therefore, he has written to request a ‘standstill agreement’ be reached for those awaiting determination of their appeals against criminal convictions.

Hudgell Solicitors last week announced that it had brought together a team of highly-experienced lawyers, working alongside campaigners and politicians, which is committed to challenging ‘every unsafe conviction’.

Now, Mr Hudgell has expressed his concerns about the process outlined in the Historical Shortfall Scheme, which has been established to compensate people who were not involved a successful group litigation against the Post Office, which settled in December 2019.

He says there is a worrying lack of detail about how the scheme will be administered, what people can be compensated for, how evidence will be gathered, what role lawyers will play and how their costs will be covered.

“It firstly seems hugely unfair to me that the people who are still fighting to clear their names through the courts could be excluded from this scheme,” he said.

“Those people continue to be stigmatised in the eyes of the Post Office it seems to me, so I’m writing and asking for a standstill agreement to be put in place with regards to the August deadline.

“The scheme also talks about losses being calculated in accordance with ‘recognised legal principles’.

“It is easy to see how a subpostmaster may seek to claim for direct financial losses occasioned because of the IT system, but it seems the emphasis remains on the applicant to prove loss.

“This leaves many questions. How high will the burden of proof be in establishing those losses? What about the inevitable lack of documentation in some instances?

“The ability to recover other losses arising from such as loss of employment, home, reputation and much more is also not at all clear. In that respect the scheme is deficient.”

Role – and costs – of legal representation must be clear

Mr Hudgell has also outlined concerns that at present, the cost of legal support for applicants is not covered as part of the scheme, nor is there clarity on what input they can have.

He is also concerned about reference to ‘final and formal ‘binding’ mediation’ in cases, which he fears could result in applicants being ‘pushed towards the courts with no hope of recovery of legal costs, or effective legal representation.’

“The scheme acknowledges applicants having the choice of legal representation, though they do not cover those costs. Nor does the scheme spell out what input lawyers can have in the process,” he said.

“Applicants are presently being asked to sign up to a scheme which will be policed by an ‘independent advisory committee’ which is yet to be selected by the Post Office, which is financing the scheme and says it will play a role in its overall governance, as well as administration.

“One can therefore reasonably assume a high level of cynicism from all support groups, commentators and ultimately potential applicants.

“The scheme says that an applicant can withdraw at any time, but does that mean that the applicant can withdraw at any point up to the point of initial determination, or at any point before final mediation?

“That needs absolute clarity. Applicants needs to be satisfied as to the true impartiality of the scheme and the likely measure of compensation they will receive. They need to have trust in the scheme, which is a huge ask at present.

“I would certainly advocate caution in completing the form without some form of legal assistance or at the very least some early clarification on key points, which is what we are seeking on behalf of those we represent.”

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