New research into lawyers’ role in Post Office scandal seeks to prevent future injustices

New research into lawyers' role in Post Office scandal seeks to prevent future injustices

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A new research project is to examine legal failings associated with the Post Office scandal in a bid to prevent similar injustices occurring in the future.

The landmark study, led by researchers at the University of Exeter and UCL, comes as a statutory judicial inquiry into the scandal continues.

More than 80 people who were wrongly convicted of criminal offences they never committed as a result of faults in the Horizon IT system have so far had their convictions quashed on appeal.

The new research will focus on the role of lawyers in the scandal, building a detailed case study of what happened and identifying any professional or ethical failures that contributed to it.

Interviews with key participants, including sub-postmasters and in-depth causal analyses with key professionals will mean the project engages with hundreds of people with relevant insight.

The three-year project, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), is led by Professor Richard Moorhead and Professor Rebecca Helm from the University of Exeter and Dr Karen Nokes from UCL.

The team is working with a professional partner LBC Wise Counsel, in-house lawyers and others, to understand and develop thinking on ethical decision-making more broadly.

Work by the research team has already led to the Post Office inquiry being widened.

Professor Moorhead said: “The research will enable us to deepen our engagement with the victims affected by the scandal; ensure that the right lessons are learned about what went wrong and why; and work on practical strategies to reduce the chances of such terrible events happening again.”

The research team hope to use the research to identify ways of protecting against similar injustice in the future. This will include building a practical theory of lawyers’ ethics to facilitate ethical standard that actively work to prevent injustice.

Dr Nokes said: “The scandal shows that when it works badly the legal system, and lawyers in particular, can have egregious effects on ordinary people’s lives. Through our research with victims and lawyers, we plan to develop strategies that can be used to encourage lawyers to consider and, if necessary rethink, their own professional mindsets.”

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