The Solicitors Regulation Authority has no plans to fast-track potential prosecutions of lawyers involved in the Post Office scandal, it confirmed today.
The SRA’s position of waiting until the end of the ongoing public inquiry has come under scrutiny this week as the plight of convicted sub-postmasters has led the news agenda.
Several lawyers have already appeared before the inquiry to give evidence about their role in prosecuting or pursuing individuals through the criminal or civil courts.
The solicitors’ regulator said today that it retains the ability to bring forward any disciplinary action but is still minded to wait until the inquiry has reported its findings.
An SRA spokesperson said: ‘We are investigating the conduct of lawyers and firms involved in the Post Office Horizon scandal. If solicitors fall short of the standards the public expects, we will take action. We, however, need to make sure that action is based upon sufficient evidence, including the key evidence coming out of the ongoing public inquiry. We will not have access to the inquiry’s findings and all the relevant evidence until the inquiry is complete.
‘It is therefore likely that we will need to wait until the end of the inquiry before we can take action. We are keeping our approach under constant review and will take action sooner if we have sufficient evidence.’
The SRA is a core participant in the inquiry and is said to be gathering evidence that has been submitted or given by witnesses. There is no date for when the inquiry will end or when its chair Sir Wyn Williams will report his findings, although oral evidence is expected to continue until the end of summer at least.
The regulator can in theory take action now against individuals in relation to the Post Office scandal, including putting conditions on the practising certificate of a solicitors.
Former Post Office lawyers Rob Wilson, Teresa Williamson, Debbie Stapel and Jarnail Singh, as well as external solicitors Stephen Dilley and Andrew Bolc, have all given evidence to the inquiry as part of the phase looking at criminal and civil prosecutions. Wilson, Singh, Dilley and Bolc are all still on the roll.
No prosecution lawyers were named in the ITV drama Mr Bates v The Post Office which has transformed the conversation around the Horizon IT scandal since it was aired last week.
There have been widespread calls for the exoneration of all sub-postmasters who were convicted on the basis of the faulty software, as well as further demands that compensation payments are speeded up to victims and their families.
Justice secretary Alex Chalk was due to meet judges on Tuesday afternoon to discuss possible options for overturning convictions, including an act of parliament to clear everyone’s name in one go. However, it is thought that some victims would prefer for a court to overturn their conviction, although that process would take longer.