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The Bar Council has urged Parliament to reevaluate the safeguards concerning private prosecutions following the Post Office Horizon scandal.
Sam Townend KC, Chair of the Bar Council, expressed concerns arising from the Post Office scandal, which is considered one of the most significant miscarriages of justice in the country. Townend highlighted two specific areas of concern likely to be addressed in the ongoing inquiry.
Firstly, prior to the implementation of Horizon in 1999, the Post Office initiated only a few prosecutions annually. However, after its introduction, the number of prosecutions surged to 50-80 per year. Townend emphasized the need for prosecuting authorities to carefully consider such drastic increases.
Secondly, the Bar Council raised questions about the Post Office’s ability to prosecute when it perceived itself as a victim of criminal behavior by postmasters and postmistresses. The inherent conflict of interest in private prosecutions, where the prosecuting entity may have a vested interest, was underscored. Townend reminded that the creation of the CPS in the 1980s aimed to separate the decision to prosecute from those involved in the investigation.
Calling for a measured review, Townend suggested that Parliament should reexamine issues surrounding private prosecutions. The Bar Council supports the request made by Sir Bob Neill MP for the government to revisit the recommendations of the Justice Committee inquiry on safeguards. The statement proposes that, at the very least, Parliament should consider introducing enhanced oversight and potentially formal regulation to prevent the abuse of prosecutorial powers.