Post Office calls in new team to replace HSF as Horizon IT inquiry adviser

Burges Salmon instructed to advise on scandal inquiry but HSF retains role advising on ‘other matters’
Windsor, UK- Feb 10, 2020: Post Office Sign outside a post office in Windsor

shawnwil23; Shutterstock

The Post Office has replaced Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) with Burges Salmon as its legal adviser for the final stages of the public enquiry into the Horizon IT scandal.

Burges Salmon, assisted by a team from FieldFisher, secured the high-profile role after winning a competitive tender to take over from HSF when Phase 5 of the inquiry begins in the autumn.

The Post office said its board had decided to appoint a new firm in January “in consideration of costs, given the inquiry is now due to run significantly longer than anticipated” as well as “any future potential risk of HSF being unable to assist on aspects of Phase 5 relating to matters in which it has been involved”.

A Post Office spokesperson said HSF would continue assisting Post Office until the end of Phase 4, which is expected to run until the autumn, working alongside Burges Salmon and FieldFisher.

Burges Salmon has already begun preparatory work for Phase 5, which will include an examination of the Post Office’s response to the scandal as well as compensation arrangements for the approximately 3,000 post masters and mistresses affected by a faulty IT system that led to suspensions, termination of contracts, wrongful prosecutions and convictions.

In April, barrister Edward Henry KC, who is representing a group of postmasters, told the inquiry that HSF was conflicted due to its wider role as the Post Office’s adviser.

HSF declined to comment, however, the Post Office said the firm would continue to assist on other matters, including the administration of the Historical Shortfall Scheme, which it launched in May 2020 to compensate post masters and mistresses caught up in the scandal.

To date nearly 2,500 settlement offers have been made. 

There is a separate scheme for people whose convictions have been overturned. The Post Office says it has identified 700 convictions in cases it prosecuted between 1999 and 2015 in which Horizon computer evidence might have featured. The total number of all overturned convictions as of 26 April is 84.

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