There is a case in the news at the moment about the post office securing 736 convictions for false accounting and theft that later some were overturned on the basis of an accounting error made by an internal computer system. The High Court described the computer system as not "remotely robust" for the first 10 years of its use, and still had problems after that.

What I would have expected to happen in this case would be for the accused to request the data on which the decision was made during discovery, with an accountant compared this to their own records and demonstrated an error. It appears this did not happen, though it is hard to find what actually did happen.

Do we know what happened here? It it possible for a party to such a suit to bring evidence to the court without providing the underlying data to the other party?

  • According to your link 6, not 736, convictions have been overturned on appeal. – Rock Ape Apr 22 at 14:05

[As this case is sub judice, I will give only a general answer describing the disclosure process.]

How does discovery disclosure work for financial crimes?

Disclosure for all criminal investigations in England and Wales, including those in to financial crime, are carried out in accordance with Parts 1 and 2 of the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 and its accompanying Code of Practice.

A full explanation is given in the Code, but put briefly: the police appoint a Disclosure Officer whose role includes reviewing and assessing everything held by the police, called "material", and passing details of all "relevant material" to the CPS appointed prosecutor.

There are four stages in the police disclosure process, called the 4Rs:

  • Record
  • Retain
  • Review
  • Reveal

These 4Rs overlap with three questions that require answering in order:

Record and Retain:

Q1 Is it "relevant material" to the investigation? If No, nothing further need be done. If Yes then Record and Retain it in a "durable and retrievable format" - write it down, save it to disc etc, keep it safe and in a place where it can be found.


Q2 Is it "sensitive material"? eg does it relate to informants, covert tactics, information given in confidence etc? Either way, two seperate schedules of relevant material according to its "sensitivity" are created.


The Disclosure Officer passes both schedules (and the actual material if necessary) to the CPS prosecutor who provides the defence with a copy of the non-sensitive schedule. The prosecutor also asks:

Q3 Does the material "undermine the case for the prosecution or assist the defence with theirs"?  If No, nothing further need be done.  If Yes, the prosecutor must disclose the material to defence, unless it sensitive and giving it to the defence is not, for example, in the public interest as it may jeopardise life, covert operations etc. The prosecutor (and police) then has to decide whether to drop the case or not in order to protect the reason for the sensitivity.

The defence, in addition to their copy of the non-sensitive schedule, can apply for sight or copies of and any material that they consider also undermines or assists but has not been disclosed to them by the prosecutor, and is necessary for their case. In the first instance this application is to the CPS prosecutor, but if it is refused the defence may apply to the trial judge for a ruling on whether it must be disclosed or not.

The overriding principle is ensuring a fair trial.


It it possible for a party to such a suit to bring evidence to the court without providing the underlying data to the other party?

It is possible but the principles of a fair trial, disclosure and the continuity of evidence (what some call the chain of custody) coupled with challeges by the defence are supposed to ensure that the provenance and accuracy of evidence is properly tested and accountable. Unfortunately, especially in highly complex investigations, this does not always seem to be the case.

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