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The Post Office has dropped Herbert Smith Freehills as its lawyers for the ongoing Horizon IT Inquiry and appointed Burges Salmon and Fieldfisher instead.

HSF "will continue to assist on other matters including the administration of the Historical Shortfall Scheme," the Post Office confirmed in a statement.

The Post Office said that it decided in January this year that a new law firm should be appointed "following careful consideration that began last year". The Post Office carried out "a competitive tender exercise" to find a new firm to replace the litigation powerhouse.

The Horizon IT scandal centres around the Post Office publicly insisting for years that accounting discrepancies in its branches were due to thieving sub-postmasters. In fact the errors were caused by its defective IT system, Horizon. 

Innocent sub-postmasters suffered bankruptcy, accusations of criminality, imprisonment, and divorce as a result of the Post Office’s cover up, with some taking their own lives.

Regarded as the largest miscarriage of justice in British legal history, a pivotal moment saw the Post Office seek to remove the judge, Mr Justice Fraser, who ruled against it in a last-ditch attempt to stave off confirmation of its wrongdoing, by accusing him of bias.

At a recent hearing for the ongoing inquiry, barrister Edward Henry KC, acting for a group of subpostmasters, accused HSF of advising on the recusal application and was therefore conflicted in its role in also acting on the historical shortfalls compensation scheme. 

Henry said the attempt to usurp Mr Justice Fraser was a “massively aggravating feature of this campaign of wrongful conviction” in which the Post Office was “aided, advised, assisted and dare I say abetted by Herbert Smith Freehills”.

“HSF wasn't a new broom - HSF was part of the problem. It was, as it were, an oily rag that tried to tarnish the reputation of the judge”, said Henry.

He called the firm's continued involvement in administering compensation schemes for victims of the Post Office's conduct “untenable” as a result, and a “hopeless conflict”.

“Here you have Herbert Smith advising on recusal, advising the Post Office and witnesses in respect of this inquiry”, and “also supervising certain of the compensation schemes”, he said.
“If they cannot see that it is a conflict then one respectfully submits they are so purblind that it's even more dangerous”, alleged Henry.

In response, a Post Office spokesperson told RollOnFriday: “At that hearing Kate Gallafent KC set out the factual timeline in relation to Post Office’s instruction of HSF and confirmed that they were not the firm who advised on making the recusal application.” 

Dan Neidle (the ex-CC partner who triggered an ethics investigation of Nadhim Zahawi) has also criticised the Post Office of an unethical attempt to silence postmasters receiving offers through the compensation scheme, by sending 'without prejudice' letters.

The former head of tax at CC has referred the Post Office to the SRA over the letters, and requested that the regulator also check if HSF was involved too. 

A Post Office spokesperson told RollOnFriday: “Offer letters are marked ‘without prejudice’ but this does not in any way prohibit postmasters from seeking independent advice on their offer and this is clearly explained in the letter".  

"Each postmaster is also rightly given the option of disputing their offer," the spokesperson added. "Post Office will again cover the costs of legal representation for the dispute process and provide an interim payment of up to 80% of the proposed settlement.”  

The SRA confirmed last year that it is investigating the role of law firms in the scandal.


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Comments

Bulgaria 09 June 23 08:42

But it was the Wombles who on record in all the litigation and did the application to remove the judge. What of them?

Postie 09 June 23 09:40

PO KC Kate Gallefent confirmed HSF not the firm  who advised on removal. It was the Wombles. How are they getting away with this?

Anon 09 June 23 09:54

It’s a bit harsh on HSF.  It’s well known in the London market that HSF were expressly called in to clean up what had become Womble’s almighty clusterfuck.  It’s very hard to do much when a case has been running for years by the time one inherits it; you’re saddled with your predecessors terrible decisions. 
 

What was post office thinking by hiring a partner in Southampton to defend this case? It probably was nothing more than a money train for Wombles & they never really understood the issues.
 

I think this case is even worse than Dechert and ENRC. Yes Dechert and Gerrard were awful and dishonest, but it was a bunch of soviet oligarchs that lost some money. Post office involves mums and dads, losing it all, including their lives and liberty, on the basis of false premises. The womble lawyers responsible should be drummed out (much like Gerard and his pals at Dechert have been). 

Ex BS 09 June 23 10:18

Getting dropped and replaced by Burges Salmon is utter embarrassment

Gobblepig 09 June 23 10:28

Why is Dan Neidle complaining about settlement offers being marked WP? I get that he once got a non-settlement letter that was marked that way, but if these were genuine settlement offers then what is his problem?

Anonymous 09 June 23 10:37

Gobblepig, apparently:

"

He said that all the settlement letters contained the same paragraph, in which the Post Office noted that the letters were marked ‘without prejudice’.

The letters said: “This means that the terms and details of the offer are confidential and, unless we both agree, cannot be shown to a court or to others unless for a legitimate reason and on confidential terms – for example, you can take advice from a solicitor about this offer and we can share it with our associates.”

Mr Neidle said he was “very troubled” by the paragraph, which he was said was misleading – ‘without prejudice was a form of legal privilege, not a rule of confidentiality – and a breach of SRA Principles.

He went on: “There is nothing to stop recipients of these offers from sharing them with other postmasters, friends, or journalists, and nothing to stop the journalists then publishing the terms (although it would be advisable to redact identifying details, to prevent any future court from seeing publication as an attempt to circumvent the ‘without prejudice’ rule).”

Describing the alleged breach of SRA rules as “particularly serious” because the Post Office knew that most recipients of the letter were unrepresented, Mr Neidle went on: “It limited unrepresented postmasters’ ability to compare offers with each other, and therefore improve their position.

“It stopped postmasters discussing the matter with friends and family, who might have prompted them to obtain legal advice.

“It also shielded the Post Office from public criticism, by preventing postmasters going public with the poor terms they were being offered.”

Mr Neidle said the situation could not be compared to lawyers negotiating a non-disclosure agreement. “Here there is no settlement, merely an offer, and the Post Office is purporting to unilaterally impose confidentiality on unrepresented claimants.”

(Not sure I understand his last para - how does negotiation start if not with an offer?)

Justiceforposties 09 June 23 10:54

0954 am spot on. Wombles out of depth and partner allowed to put own greed and ego before justice . I am convinced in time that SRA and clients walking will catch up with Wombles. Without multimillion gravy train of PO Wombles may be a financial risk quite soon.

John 09 June 23 11:44

The firm I would choose is Quinn Emmanuel. It’s like having a pitbull in your corner defending you. Unmatched aggression and tenacity. 

Gobblepig 09 June 23 11:58

@Anonymous 09 June 23 10:37

 

Thanks. Neidle's talking absolute rot, in that case. There is nothing to stop them from discussing the offers with co-claimants under conditions of confidentiality, and it sounds like the offers made that point in general terms.

There is everything wrong with them showing them to journalists and a journalist them publishing them - that could prejudice ongoing or future legal proceedings, and there are multiple judgments on this point.

If they want to make a public point about not receiving any reasonable offers from the Post Office, they can do so. The Post Office can then take a view about whether it wants to seek their agreement to publish the offers it made them, or re-make those offers openly. 

Telling someone they should get independent legal advice in these letters is good practice; it's not clear whether or not the letters did that, but everything else Neidle is spouting in the excerpt you quoted is ill-informed and highlights the dangers of lawyers straying out of their areas of expertise. 

Anon 09 June 23 12:47

What do you expect if you are represented by a lawyer in Southampton.

anabsolutetosser 09 June 23 13:14

I'm with you @gobblepig, Dan Neidle is the real problem here. Glad someone had the courage to call him out. 

Anonymous 09 June 23 13:20

@John- absolutely not. Now is the time for Post Office to show contrition and eat a ton of crow. Burges Salmon are the perfect firm for the big apology tour.

Gobblepig 09 June 23 13:24

Eh?! The Post Office are obviously completely and utterly, unforgivably in the wrong here, and my making that point in my posts on a specific point of litigation practice would achieve nothing other than to stroke your desperate posturing needs. 

Postiejustice 09 June 23 13:42

It is Wombles here who need calling out as the Judge said in Court of Appeal they used every legal trick in the book to deny subpostmasters their day in court. Maybe PO at time were pleased with their approach but will now no doubt learn to regret it when it all catches up with them. Burgess Salmon sensible appointment they have gravitas and won’t be prepared or need to cross a line for financial or ego gain unlike the Wombles who were trading beyond their abilities 

Embarrassedwomble 09 June 23 13:48

@954am sadly true. The money Wombles earned from all of this is eye watering. The current MP was head of litigation when all this was going on and the current Chairman was Co client partner . You can tell what the partners valued most when voting these 2 in when the problems were already well known internally. All this will come back to bite them and the firm. But they have enjoyed their very rich pickings so unlikely to care about the lives they have ruined

Gobblepig 09 June 23 13:53

Ultimately, this case is incredibly emotive, and it now needs to be handled sensibly and commercially to try to right some of the damage. The Post Office should be making decent commercial settlement offers to do that, and should be allowed to use the proper dispute resolution mechanisms to achieve that. Otherwise, there is a risk of further damage being done to the postmasters.

There is also the law of unintended consequences when well-intentioned people make scattergun efforts try to change things that they see as wrong. Fraser's judgment, for example, contained some very unnecessary and unhelpful findings that considerably extended and breathed new life into the Yam Seng doctrine of implied contractual obligations of good faith. Neidle traipsing in and demanding wholesale changes to WP privilege is a further unnecessary and potentially damaging intervention on a matter that he clearly does not understand particularly well. 

anabsolutetosser 09 June 23 13:55

@gobblepig. Yes you were making a specifc point, bet Dan wouldn't understand it though. That guy needs to stay in his own lane. I wouldn't worry, guys like Dan never last long. 

SRAcomingcalling 09 June 23 14:21

It is like that exam question when a lawyer tells his client exactly what it wants to hear not what it should be told. Happy at the time think lawyers best ever. Then it all goes wrong . Lawyers are sued and reported to SRA. Wombles watch this space. 

Gobblepig 09 June 23 14:50

anabsolutetosser 09 June 23 13:55

...oh I see: you're a troll. Apologies, I made the mistake of engaging with you. 

Beach Fossils 09 June 23 15:16

@justiceforposties

I don’t understand how Wombles have not yet been called out on all of this much beyond the odd forum like this. 

What they’ve taken from this scandal relative to their input and what others have suffered is sickening, as is the contemptible behaviour of a great many of the “leadership” (whatever that means in the context of that firm) team, and not just in relation to the PO.

Naive, negligent, stupid, nasty or a combination of all of the above? Who knows. But I really hope people start to kick the tyres and look under the bonnet of that place because, to stretch the metaphor, it is not the kind of car you want to be going for a ride in.

anabsolutetosser 09 June 23 15:18

@gobblepig

...I am literally agreeing with you.

Justiceforposties 09 June 23 16:54

Totally agree@beach fossils. If anyone reads the Court of Appeal comments on Wombles they are very very condemning. It can only be hoped that as more and more clients and prospective applicants become aware of the culture ( and remember BDB jilted them at alter on this ground) that Wombles will only be found underground . Horrible toxic culture is being cultivated there. So sad used to be a great place to work many years ago but long gone now.

whistleblower 09 June 23 17:03

@beachfossils. maybe a whistle blower at Wombles is biding their time?

Dodged that one 09 June 23 17:17

Maybe ask BDB what they uncovered about Wombles that led to them spectacularly dumping them? 

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