So the Government have announced the details (very sparse at the moment) of the forthcoming review into the Post Office Scandal led by the retired judge, Wyn Williams. The ‘Government’ in this case is really the senior civil servants at the centre of this affair as well as probably the Cabinet Office who have conspired to bring this matter to what they think will be a conclusion.
What was asked for by the cross bench support for the affected subpostmasters was a full Public Inquiry led by a Judge and this was supported by, what the civil servants must have been appalled at, a rather foolhardy statement by the Prime Minister at the dispatch box that he supported such an Inquiry. What the MPs have now got in return could, and probably will, be described by the Ministers in charge, as a Judicial Inquiry. They, the Ministers, can do this because a) it will be led by a retired Judge and b) they have decided to change the name from a review (which led to much outcries of anger in the chamber when it was announced) to an Inquiry with no explanation nor justification.
What’s the difference you may ask? Well in a full and proper inquiry led by a Judge witnesses can be commanded to appear and provide their testimony under oath. In this review witnesses can decline to appear and if they do so they can present their testimony making it up as they go along to protect themselves. In a Judge led inquiry, the Judge has full powers of disclosure and can demand to see critical pieces of evidence which would then become public knowledge.
This review is toothless and will be severely limited by the as yet unknown detailed terms of reference. Many potential witnesses from both sides will refrain from appearing before it and probably most importantly, as soon as the review publishes its findings, those findings will be disparaged in the media as evidence not made available to the review is published and the roles of those employees from POL and Fujitsu who have declined to appear before the review will be exposed once again.
To be pedantic for a moment let me point out that Wyn Williams is not a Judge just as I am no longer a subpostmaster. I am sure he will do his best and perhaps surprise us all with his findings but let us not fall into the trap of accepting this is a Judge led review and for the reasons stated above it is not an Inquiry either.
So why the need for the Government, the Civil Service and POL to expedite this matter? The real reason is closure. Somebody has told those responsible for this mess to make sure the scandal is brought to a close and do it fast. I was intrigued by the Post Office Historical Losses scheme when it was announced that it contained a closing date on it for applications. Why on earth would they do that? There was much wrong with that scheme in any event and anybody who participated in it without legal representation will be regretting it now but a closing date in place ties in with the decision made higher up to bring this scandal to conclusion.
I am afraid it is not for the Mandarins in Whitehall to decide when a scandal be brought to a close it is for those affected by it to do so. When each affected Subpostmaster has been fairly compensated, when each individual responsible for the scandal is held to account both in the courts and in their careers and when POL and the Government show that they will never ever let this happen again then and only then will this scandal be put to rest.