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Why can’t all Post Office Horizon cases be automatically referred?

The CCRC has referred dozens of Post Office Horizon cases – and encourage other potential applicants to contact us.

Some people understandably ask why we don’t simply refer every Post Office conviction in one fell swoop, or at least why we don’t automatically refer the convictions of those former Post Office staff who apply to us.

There are two key reasons – both linked to our power to refer cases only if there is a real possibility that an appeal will succeed. 

1. Consent needed from applicants

We do not force a review upon people

  • It is the individual choice of each former SPM whether they wish to challenge their conviction or not
  • A significant number of potential applicants have told us that they want to close the chapter on a painful period of their life
  • Even if the law were to allow it, it is doubtful whether appeal proceedings should be forced upon a former SPM who has made clear that they do not wish to appeal

What would happen without consent to a review?

  • If the person with the potentially unjust conviction or sentence chooses not to participate, an appeal court would not agree to hear an appeal
  • As there can be no appeal unless there is someone to pursue it, without a consenting applicant there can be no ‘real possibility’ of the conviction being quashed
  • If they have died, a family member may be able to act on their behalf
  • If there is no-one interested in pursuing the matter, we cannot refer the case as there is no possibility of an appeal (successful or otherwise)

2. The law behind referrals

The Criminal Appeal Act sets out the framework for appeals

  • The CCRC makes referrals to the Court of Appeal to consider quashing convictions or sentences
  • Decisions whether to refer are made following the legislation set out in the Criminal Appeal Act 1995
  • This requires us to carefully evaluate each individual case to see if there is a real possibility that the new evidence or argument will lead to a successful appeal 
  • The bar is relatively low – a real possibility may be less than a probability or a likelihood – but each individual assessment is crucial to ensure the integrity and fairness of the review process

Court of Appeal

  • The Court of Appeal has been clear that Post Office Horizon convictions will only be overturned if the Horizon evidence was essential to each prosecution and conviction
  • In some cases the key evidence behind a conviction is independent of Horizon
  • Therefore, before making a referral, the CCRC must meticulously analyse the evidence presented in each case, ensuring that it meets the necessary threshold for reconsideration by the appeal courts

The complexity of the Post Office Horizon cases and the intricacies of the CCRC’s legal obligations highlight the challenges faced in referring every case simultaneously.

While the desire for speed is understandable, rushing the referral process without proper evaluation could jeopardise the chances of successfully rectifying any injustice suffered by the individual.

You can read more about this subject in a blog written by the CCRC’s Director of Casework Operations in July 2023.