The myth of perfect software – IT audit and governance aspects of the Post Office scandal

This is a 21 minute presentation I prepared for the Kent Centre for European and Comparative Law, at the University of Kent. It was for an event devoted to the Post Office scandal on 21st May 2022.

People often ask. “How could the Post Office scandal go on for so long?” “Why did nobody realise what was going wrong?” “Why did nobody speak out?”

Part of the problem was a willful naivety about the fallibility of complex software systems. Too many people in important positions at the Post Office were ignorant about the nature of software and apparently extremely reluctant to learn. They wanted to retain their illusions. The people who should have educated them did not do their job. There is no such thing as perfect software unless we are talking about utterly trivial applications. The question, the challenge, is how we respond so that people do not get hurt.

The Post Office could hardly have failed this challenge more appallingly or more disgracefully. This was a scandal of IT management and corporate governance for which responsibility reaches to the highest level. The role of IT audit was crucial in this failure, as I explain in this talk.

The talk was based on a lengthy article “The Post Office IT scandal – why IT audit is essential for effective corporate governance” that I wrote for the Digital Evidence and Electronic Signature Law Review and which was published in March 2022.

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